The secret is really quite simple, at least if you ask me!
When it comes to training young kids, you must begin with the end in mind.
Our goal isn’t just to get them bigger, faster or stronger, but to give them a movement foundation that they can utilize for the rest of their lives.
We could talk ad nauseum about all the issues that surround youth training these days:
- Year-round athletic programs that are focused more on making money than making athletes,
- Speed/vertical jump schools who put the focus on short-term results versus long-term success, and
- Old school programming and coaching that’s neither up to date or up to snuff.
As a coach, my goal is always to develop a complete athlete.
Sure, there is a time when we a young athlete should specialize (especially if they have the talent to play in college or professionally), but most of our kids nowadays need more general and basic movement training than they do specific training!
So what is “basic” training? With regard to movement training, it could include any (or all) of the following:
- Planting and Cutting
- Basic Mobility and Flexibility Training
This would be ideal for young athletes that come in to your facility that are between 10 and 13 years old. As you can see the program is very general, and would act more as a PE class replacement than a true “training” session.
So when a young kid comes in at 13, or 14 and is ready to start lifting weights, we just load them up and start right in on the heavy squats and deadlifts, right?
Hopefully, you picked up on my sarcasm here 😉
Zatsiorsky talks about the 3-year rule that he applies with young athletes: quite simply, they take up to 3 years before they execute loaded barbell lifts. The foundation of their program early on is body weight exercise and barbell lifts performed with a PVC pipe or broomstick.
The focus for these young athletes is on skill acquisition, body awareness, and most importantly, the development of connective tissues.
What I like to do is take the general planes of movement/motion, and then make sure that we’re using the body as an integrated unit whenever possible. It may look something like this:
- Squat/Quad Dominant Pattern: Goblet or Front Squat
- Deadlift/Hip Dominant Pattern: RDL or Trap Bar Deadlift
- Horizontal Push: Push-up Variation
- Horizontal Pull: Inverted Row Variation
- Vertical Push: Overhead Press Variation
- Vertical Pull: Chin-up/Pull-up Variation
Some of these selections may seem obvious, but others (such as the horizontal push and pull exercises) take away some of our pet strength training exercises.
As a powerlifter, I will reluctantly say that I like the bench press. But it’s not my first, go-to option when training young athletes, especially early in their training career.
I prefer the push-up because it not only develops some of the smaller, stabilizing muscles of the shoulder, but it uses the core to “tie together” the upper and lower bodies.
Ditto on the inverted row. I really like chest-supported rowing exercises for isolating the muscles of the mid-back, but if we want to build strong, stable athletes, the inverted row is a superior option, at least early on.
Over time, there’s nothing wrong with choosing chest-supported rows, bench presses, etc. I would argue that early on, however, exercises that integrate the entire body and develop trunk stability are critical for developing athletic potential.
If a kid you’re working with is still struggling, consider throwing in offset versions of any (or all!) of the above exercises.
Instead of a goblet squat, try an offset KB or DB front squat.
Instead of a traditional RDL, try an offset version while only holding a dumbbell in one hand.
Or instead of doing boring and useless conditioning, try throwing in some offset carries with a dumbbell, kettlebell, or sandbag à la Dan John (as pictured above).
If you work with young athletes, give some of these exercises a shot, and work hard to develop stiffness and stability through the trunk and core. It’s not just about getting stronger; it’s developing strength they can use in life as well as on the field of play.
Not only will you enjoy the results, but they will too!
All the best,
P.S. – if you work with young athletes, I have a sweet deal for readers of my blog. Head over HERE to see how you can save $100 on the IYCA High School Strength and Conditioning Coach certification this week only!