21 January, 2016

Youth and the Weights Room

Youth and the Weights Room

GUEST BLOG: Jake is a degree qualified Strength and Conditioning Coach who works with a range of athletes, including youth athletes. Jake is employed as a full time Coach with Bodyfit NT.

One of my big bug bears as a strength and conditioning coach is seeing how many parents and some club coaches still assume that strength training for adolescent athletes is inadvisable or dangerous. Of course walking into a weight room has its inherent dangers, but so does playing sport.

If you want to wrap yourself in cotton wool all your life, then stepping outside of your front door has a whole range of dangers to you. Done correctly, strength training for adolescents is very safe and the most effective way of ensuring long term development of the child athlete.

Another problem is the “fitness training” that a lot of adolescent athletes are doing is the wrong training. A huge amount of time is spent doing endless amounts of long distance running. The evidence proves that this is making you a worse athlete. If you’re a 10km runner, then sure, do longer running. However if your sport is netball, AFL, rugby, tennis or basketball or basically any sport that involves short, high intensity, repeated efforts, than you really need to begin a training regime that revolves around sprinting and strength and power.

The Fundamentals

I see a lot of athletes who as teenagers don’t know how to move properly. Their motor skills are poor and they completely lack body awareness. On the back of parents and coaches at lower levels prescribing endless amounts of cardio to their child or athlete due them being too afraid to teach the fundamentals, I keep seeing adolescent athletes who can’t jump or more importantly, can’t land properly, can’t throw properly, can’t change direction properly and can’t accelerate or decelerate properly. These are fundamental motor skills that need to be coached properly and coached early.

Adolescent training should involve more bodyweight and when they are ready barbell exercises. Primal movement patterns such as the hip hinge and the squat pattern need to be taught as they are vital in athletic development and will play a major role in strength training down the track when they are more advanced. Push ups, pull ups, lunges and bridges should be taught early to begin developing their ability to recruit fast twitch muscle fibres to then build upon in the future.

Develop the Nervous System

Look at how much more adaptable children are. They are able to learn things about technology for instance, much quicker than most adults. It’s because their central nervous system has much more plasticity than an adults. If you continue to prescribe long distance running in high volumes then this is the characteristic that their bodies will take. Their bodies will recruit more slow twitch fibres effectively slowing them down. Again, like I said earlier, this will make them less athletic.

Junior athletes don’t have the same ability as adults to build large amounts of muscle due to them not having the same levels of testosterone yet; however they will develop their nervous systems ability to recruit fast twitch fibres improving their neurological efficiency. Developing strength, power and speed will give the junior athlete the base for sports success and also decrease their risk of injury.

After reading this, you may think yeah okay, that’s great, but now what? Well the answer is if you want your child to continue to develop as an athlete they need to see someone who knows what they are talking about. Sending them to a gym to a trainer who has big muscles isn’t what I’m talking about. You need to be smart and send them to someone who has the education and experience of training athletes through periodised sports specific programs.

From Paul - I respect Jake because he takes the time to get to know his athletes. He is well educated and has the experience to back this up too. If you want to get in touch with Jake, then email him via Bodyfit NT's website.

© 2019 Paul Mead