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Strength and Conditioning Programs: 7 Steps to Programming for Young Athletes

Written on October 19, 2010 at 5:16 am, by Eric Cressey

Today’s guest blog comes from Brian Grasso.

Template Design is a style of programming that has yet to truly catch on industry-wide, but is remarkably effective, especially when working with younger, sport-based populations.

Although I enjoy articles that are weighty in scientific specifics and complete in the depiction of the theories they are purporting, I also tend to benefit as much, often more, from less wordy commentaries that are pithy in nature.

So today, brevity wins.

In the current state of our industry (and I admit, this may be a terribly unpopular statement), we tend to over-scrutinize from a formal assessment perspective – the expense being common sense and practicality.

An explanation may be in order…

If a 13-year old presents, through formal assessment, with a “poor” forward lunge pattern, what does that really tell us?

Does he lack Glute strength or activation?

Are her hip flexors too tight to create a positive forward translation?

Is it a foot issue (that I dare say less than 1% of Fitness Professionals are truly qualified to ascertain)?

Is it a structural abnormality?

Now, the corrective exercise folk among us have all just raised their hands thirsty to share the knowledge of how to “fix” this barely teen – but let me ask another couple of questions first.

Does the kid just not know how to do a lunge?  Could the “poor” result be “fixed” with three minutes of proper coaching and cueing?

At 13, has peak height velocity (PHV) begun, rendering this young athlete’s mobility and coordination nearly non-existent?

Moreover, I’d be willing to bet that 90% or better of the 13 year olds who walk into your facility would “fail” this standard assessment:

  • They’re growing and lack mobility
  • They growing and lack coordination
  • They sit all day and have inappropriate hip functionality as a result
  • They’ve been introduced to improper “training” and lack posterior strength

A formal assessment can certainly show us gains, improvements and corrections when performed at regular intervals – and because of that, I am all for them.

But here’s what I’ve learned to be true about coaching young athletes in the trenches:

  • You see them less than you’d like to and the “homework” you give them in the way of corrective exercise likely isn’t getting done – at very least not the way you’d want it done.
  • Your time with them per session is finite, but there’s a whole-lot-o-stuff that needs to be addressed.
  • Group and team training is almost always the way it goes – any sort of individualized attention must be created through a systematic approach to coaching and programming.
  • Yes, we all preach to our young athletes the virtue of lessening the load and concentrating on form – but, in the high school weight room when you’re not around, but their peers are, guess who is loading the bar?

This is not a declaration to abandon assessments altogether, nor is it a manifesto encouraging you to throw your hands up in the air and announce the situation hopeless.

It’s a simple decree suggesting that your programming practice could aid a great deal in curbing this problem – and doing so not by what you discover “formally” through assessment, but what you know to be true about young athletes:

1. They sit all day long, which means:

a. They are kyphotic and lack thoracic mobility (and therefore proper scapular function)

b. They have tight, weak hips that also lack function

2. They don’t have proper strength and conditioning care outside of you, which means:
a.  ROM is compromised in all major joints
b.  Form and function of lift technique is entirely unfamiliar

Over the years, I have grown fond of referring to these issues as the “Likely Bunch” and have created a training template intended to meet of the aforementioned needs as a matter of principle rather than what an assessment tells me.

Rather than programming for the day, week or month, my standard Training Template for a high school athlete looks as follows:

1.       Tissue Quality – 10 minutes

2.       ROM/Torso/Activation – 10 minutes

3.       Movement Preparatory – 10 minutes

4.       Movement – 10 minutes

5.       Strength/Power Technique – 10 minutes

6.       Strength Execution – 10 minutes

7.       Warm-Down/Active Flexibility – 10 minutes

The “10-minute” time frame represents a maximum (with five minutes being the minimum).  This creates a 7-Step Programming Template that takes anywhere from 45 – 70 minutes to complete.

I have 30–50 exercises listed in my personal database for each category and select on a given day what each athlete will work on.

An example day may look like this:

1.       Foam Roll (Glutes, Hamstrings, Quads, ITB)

2.       Ankle Mobility, Hip Circuit, Side Planks, Supine Bridges

3.       Various Multi-Directional Movement Patterns (including skipping, hopping and deceleration)

4.       Lateral Deceleration into Transitions

5.       Front Squat Technique

6.       Hybrid Complex – Hang Clean, Front Squat, Push-Press, Overhead Lunge

7.       Static-Active Hamstrings/Quads

Within this template, I’m guaranteeing my young athletes get what they need from a developmental and preparatory standpoint each and every time they walk in my door.

Create a Training Template for yourself and see how much easier programming becomes.

Brian Grasso has trained more than 15,000 young athletes worldwide over the past decade. He is the Founder and CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association – the only youth-based certification organization in the entire industry. For more information, visit www.IYCA.org.

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5 Responses to “Strength and Conditioning Programs: 7 Steps to Programming for Young Athletes”

  1. Alex Rutherford Says:

    I like this approach. I deal with a lot of young athletes as well and its amazing to see the changes that occur in coordination and function from simple cueing and allowing them to grow into their bodies a bit before trying to overload them. The other important element to this equation is the coach and/or parents who think that their 13-15 year old should be training like Sidney Crosby or Lebron James. You need the coach and parents on the same page as you.

  2. Martin Says:


    I love this post. This site is the first on my list of favorites, and I visit it almost every day. I think it is an excellent site for anyone interested in physical health and performance. BTW for mental health sufficient to withstand the rigors of 21st centuary life it is ESSENTIAL to visit tonygentilcore once per week. More often may be dangerous.

    After that ramble, let me comment on the post. I like the fact that while scientific certainty is great, we must exist in a world short of resources, especially time. In such circumstances it is wise, bordering on genius, to make educated assumptions about what is needed. Intelligence and experience should redflag the exceptions.
    However, I find the template a little bit detailied and scientific for inspired and educated guesswork. Here are my suggestions.

    Teach them to deadlift

    Begin by teaching the romanian with a broomstick and carry them through the route of the kettlebell swing. If there is no kettlebell, use anything heavyish that they can hold securely and safely enough to avoid damage to person or property.

    Teach them to squat

    Begin with the goblet box squat and go the route of the single leg squat

    Teach them Brett Contreras hip thrust.
    Remember the single leg version.

    Teach them the powerlifter’s bench press

    Teach them the rotator cuff exercises. This is ABSOLUTLY ESSENTIAL, almost as essential as reading Tony’s site for mental health.

    If you really have to, teach some other upper body stuff

    Finish with some Cressy stretches and foam rolls.


    Great blog, Great post.


  3. Harry Grove Says:

    I have recently started off ice training with my local 14’s and 16’s ice hockey teams. It is a new area for me and one I am looking forward to progress in. I am going to be doing Brian Grasso’s IYCA certification before my MSc next year.

    In my last session with the 14’s I spent time just teaching them how to squat and split squat properly. As Eric says, you could go through the science of it all day on why they are unable to do the movement, or you could, just as Eric says and which I did last week, spend time teaching them and

    I really like the structure of how you have laid out the session and will be a template I will utilize and experiment with over the course of my time with the teams.

    I agree with Martin’s reply too, there are just exercises, such as the ones you have listed that will greatly benefit them. One thing to hold (instead of a kettlebell) is a juice bottle, with a handle, filled with water. Cheap, and easy to get hold of many for the team.

    Great post and very very helpful, thank you.


  4. Richard Husseiny Says:

    I really like this blog as the LTAD is an area of much debate. I totally agree with you in terms of the importance of identifying PHV. In my experience (which is limited with this age group) simply showing and correcting lunge patterns for example can overcome poor movement with that exercise. The problem comes as you identify with daily habits, limited contact time and lack of individual attention. I get 2 x 1 hour sessions a week with 15 x U13s & 16 U14s age group talented athletes. The sport is rugby league but to coach, correct, educate and also identify problems is extremely hard work.

    I like your approach very much, one problem I foresee, with the tactical coaches I work alongside anyway, is the need to accomplish a certain work rate/volume in that session as well. Do you come across this in the States? Tactical coaches are normally higher up on the pecking order so there is a slight need to satisfy their requirements. There is room to educate them but there is always that problem to overcome.

    It would be great to hear your views,



  5. AllPros Says:

    This is a great article. As a youth soccer coach, you really broke it down so that I can better conduct strength and conditioning drills.


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