Home Posts tagged "Strength Training for Kids"

Long-Term Athletic Development: Optimizing A Young Athlete’s First Day at the Gym

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - MA Director of Performance, John O'Neil. I'd like to devote more attention to long-term athletic development here at EricCressey.com, and John will be helping me do so.

This article is geared towards working with a youth athlete who is in a gym for the first time. I have identified steps that I believe to be important with getting the ball rolling toward the athlete’s long-term athletic development, both from a physical and a mental standpoint.

The Physical

1. Establish Point A.

While athletic goals can be diverse, they all fall under the simple structure of getting from point A to point B in an efficient and appropriate manner. We need to be able to address the biggest differences between what an athlete’s current Point A is and what their potential Point B is, and provide them the skills to achieve them. It doesn’t matter what assessment system you use--just that you have the ability to identify where an athlete is the first time they are standing in front of you. For youth athletes, who may not know where their Point B is yet, it’s important that we give them a variety of motor skills that allows them succeed in a number of potential athletic goals years down the road.

image1-300x175
It’s our job to determine what lies within the arrow, and understand that if an athlete’s goals change, we have still put him closer to his new Point B than he was at the original Point A.

2. Give the athlete success.

Success is not something you can learn about on paper and enact. It is something you have to experience. While I understand it is not always practical depending on the schedule of your facility, in my opinion, it is important to give the athlete some type of training effect on Day 1. As a beginner athlete in the gym, success is given via the instant gratification of knowing that you got better today--in essence, you are one (small) step past Point A where you started. The sooner we can give an athlete confidence in their ability to execute the necessary motor skills in a gym to build strength, move more efficiently, and perform on the field, the sooner they will take ownership of their program and be able to convert what you are teaching them from their short to long-term memory.

3. Know which motor skills you want a youth athlete new to the gym to have in place.

Dan John’s basic human movement skills are a great place to start. Every advanced athlete, regardless of their sport, should be able to hip hinge, squat, push, pull, carry, and perform single-leg movements. While not all of these are always realistic to truly pattern in on Day 1, give the athlete the knowledge of and the physical basics of what you are trying to get them to do. In a baseball population, some of the most important movements will also include teaching the athlete true external rotation, scapular control, and the ability to safely get overhead. As an example, here’s a basic drill (usually included in the warm-ups) to educate athletes about where they should and should not be feeling exercises in their shoulder as their arm goes into external rotation.

4. Know which practical weight-room skills you want the athlete to have in place.

Identify the basic implements, grips, and stances used in your programming, and select exercises to teach these while also teaching the basic movement skills. A perfect example is an Anterior-Loaded Barbell Reverse Lunge, which teaches the athlete to get strong on one leg with an efficient lunge pattern, and also teaches them a front-squat grip with a barbell. We have to ask: How much of the overlap in the Venn Diagram can we get athletes proficient in, or at least give them a comfort level with, on Day 1?

image2-300x175

 

Another great example is a kettlebell goblet squat, as the athlete learns both the goblet grip and the squat pattern. As Eric has written in the past, barring any contraindication, a majority of Day 1 Cressey Sports Performers learn the trap bar deadlift, but many athletes new to lifting may need more direct work to effectively pattern the hip hinge component of a deadlift. One of my favorite exercises is a tall-kneeling banded hip hinge with a dowel. This teaching tool puts the athlete in a position where they cannot fail without knowing it, thanks to having a physical external cue in both places that are important to the hip hinge--hinging at the hips (the band) and maintaining a neutral spine (the dowel).

hinge-300x253

The Mental

1. Put the athlete in an environment where they are comfortable and want to be.

For someone who has never been in a gym, it is important to schedule their assessment and first training session at a time when the gym is not busy. In order to really promote athletes taking ownership of their programming and truly wanting to pursue long-term athletic development, the gym needs to feel like a safe haven rather than an overwhelming place of chaos. The athlete could be coming from a difficult situation at home or in their personal life and it is our job to make the gym a place of comfort and enjoyment. If the gym is very slow/quiet, you might even have the athlete choose which music they want to listen to. The places we learn the best are the places we are the most comfortable and the happiest being in.

2. Assess the athlete in a way that tells them that you’ve seen, dealt with, and given success to many, many people just like them.

A majority of your athletes won’t have a clue what you’re looking at, but they’ll know if you come across as confident and sure of what you are seeing. In the baseball population at CSP, this is easy to portray to an athlete because they know the success that professional baseball players have had while training there. During the assessment, you might even be able to figure out whether the athlete is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner, which will be invaluable when you are cueing the bigger movements.

3. Create context with the athlete that allows you and your staff to optimize your relationship with them, both as a person and an athlete.

Athletes are comfortable with coaches they know truly care about them, and, they respond best to cues that are already within their existing schemas. As coaches, we are always working to expand the amount of schemas we can tap into because we need to know what clicks best with the athlete. If talking about video games makes the athlete want to be there and listen to you, relate to them that way. If talking to a 14 year-old about why they don’t use Facebook anymore and how they only use Snapchat and Instagram is the best way to make them think you’re someone who’s cool to be around and worth listening to, then that’s the route you should take. The best time to create said context is when you are showing the athlete how to foam roll. The correctives/warm-ups and the lifts will be more task-oriented, and hopefully by that point you know what to talk about and how to talk to the athlete.

Conclusion

The challenge as a coach is choosing how much information you can give the athlete that they can actually retain. One of my favorite ideas to think about as a coach is Miller’s Law--the idea that a person can only hold approximately seven items in their working memory. At the end of the day, you can’t expect an athlete of any level to retain everything from their first training session, but you can give the athlete a concept of a few basic motor patterns and a few different grips, implements, and stances in the weight room. Most importantly, you can send that athlete home with the knowledge that they are one step closer to their goals.

If you're looking for more insights on training youth athletes, be sure to check out the International Youth Conditioning Association High School Strength and Conditioning Certification.

iycacertification

About the Author

John O’Neil (@OneilStrength) is Director of Performance at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. You can contact him by email at joh.oneil@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Name
Email
Read more

20 Ways to Prepare Young Athletes for Success in Sports and in Life

It’s a challenging time to be a parent. My twin daughters just turned two, and I can already appreciate this fact.

You see, at the end of my own personal youth athletics career, I went directly to a career in coaching young athletes – and I’ve been there for well over a decade now. To give you a little idea of how times have changed since I was a high school athlete:

a. I’d never heard of AAU soccer (or elite travel teams) when I was playing as a teenager (or 8-year-old, for that matter). I think about three kids in my state were selected to the Olympic Development Program when I was a senior because they were pretty good, but the rest of us didn’t get a trophy for trying – and I don’t recall anyone complaining about this lack of hardware on the mantle.

b. I didn’t send an email or use Instant Messenger until I was a freshman in college (1999). Somehow, I miraculously still managed to have normal social interactions with other human beings. I didn’t get a cell phone until I was 23 and in graduate school. And, I’m pretty sure that the gerbil that ran around inside it to keep the power going wasn’t up for working overtime so that I could Snapchat (and the thing couldn’t take pictures, anyway).

c. The guy (Kevin Colleran) who lived next door to me my freshman year in college turned out to be one of Facebook’s first ten employees. So, you could say I had a Facebook friend before Facebook even existed.

By reading this long, meandering introduction, I hope you’ll realize (not that you didn’t already) that kids “these days” are different. They respond to a different style of coaching, and that surely means that parenting styles must be different, too.

One thing I’ve found quite interesting over the past decade or so is that the number of overzealous, pushy, high-pressure parents has increased exponentially. As we all know (and not surprisingly), burnout rates in teen athletes has gone sky-high in this same time period. However, on a more anecdotal level, I know I can speak for myself and many other qualified coaches when I say that the "typical" kid who walks through my door on Day 1 just isn’t as athletic as he used to be. Asymmetries are more profound, injury histories are more extensive, basic movement skill acquisition has been skipped over, and – perhaps more significantly – the athletes are a bit “desensitized” to the overall training process.

They view everything as just another game/practice, so the value of each training exposure is a bit less. This was something that just didn’t happen when I was younger and free play was so heavily emphasized; we got tremendously excited for each opportunity to get better, whether it was a summer soccer camp or a new drill or training approach that our coaches introduced.

Now, make no mistake about it: we aren’t going to end the Technology Era, and I don’t expect travel teams and showcases to go away, either. However, we can change our attitudes toward them and behavior surrounding them – and, most importantly, how we interact with our kids with respect to their athletic careers. To that end, I thought I’d throw out some examples of suggestions on strategies I’ve seen employed by parents who have young athletes who are well-mannered and successful while enjoying sports – from little league to the Big Leagues.

Note: while the overwhelming majority of these lessons apply to both males and females, I’ll be using the “he” pronoun for the sake of brevity. No gender bias here!

1. Never overreact - or underreact.

Sports are games, and games are supposed to be fun. If a kid works his butt off, but the outcome isn’t what he’d hoped for, you should talk about the value in the process rather than dwelling on the target destination he didn’t reach. Crack jokes to lighten the mood, and then try to find a learning experience in losing, as opposed to just reaming a kid out and then sitting in silence for the rest of the ride home. In my experience, parents and coaches who overreact and take the fun out of the game are the single most common reason kids give up a sport.

Underreacting can be equally problematic. The process is definitely more important than the destination, but if a kid doesn’t take the process seriously, he should hear about it – just like if he ignores his homework or refuses to take out the trash. If he is rude to a coach or umpire, doesn’t hustle, shows up late to practice, or poorly handles something that is 100% within his control, he should be disciplined for it. Blindly siding with your kid when he misbehaves or is lazy sets a very dangerous precedent, but it also puts a coach in a very uncomfortable situation of having to discipline your kid because you haven’t.

2. Watch competition, but not practice.

When kids play while parents are watching, they are much less outgoing. However, take the parents away, and they’ll let their guards down, make new friends, and try things they otherwise wouldn’t attempt. This is a big part of both physical and social development. When parents stick around to watch practice/training – even if it’s with wildly supportive intentions – kids won’t come out of their shell. Sports are a great way to teach kids to “roll” with different social circles, and it’s important for them to get this experience without helicopter parents interfering.

By all means, go to game and cheer kids on, but don’t stick around to watch practice. As an added bonus, you avoid the possibility of a coach looking over his shoulder the whole time as he wonders whether you’re second-guessing him.  Every coach dreads the parent who wants to live vicariously through his kid, so the more space you give your child, the less likely you are to be perceived like that.

3. Have your kid play multiple sports.

We’ve been telling folks for years now that early sports specialization doesn’t work as well as people think. Kids are more likely to get injured, and they miss out on a well-rounded sports experience that fosters better athleticism and social interactions over the long haul. However, to supplement this assertion, I’d encourage you to check out this fantastic post from Elsbeth Vaino: Does Early Specialization Help? Elsbeth found that 82% of the top athletes from the four major sports in the U.S. actually played multiple sports. Yes, you read that right – and it is verified by my experience with hundreds of professional athletes each year. Here's a great interview with Blake Griffin that Elsbeth posted:

4. Encourage play, not always practice/competition.

Even when the sport in question remains constant, play is different than practice, as it is far less regimented, and there is far more quality movement because there are fewer stoppages for teaching. It also presents a far richer proprioceptive environment and greater opportunity for social development. Kids need to play more – and in a variety of disciplines. Adolescent athletes need practice. Kids don’t need more competition, though; our modern athletic society already plenty of that.

5. Don’t allow kids to get desensitized to losing.

With more and more tournaments being round robin and double elimination formats, I think we have a generation of kids who has been desensitized to losing. It’s even worse when you have kids who play on multiple teams, as losing for Team A doesn’t matter because Team B has a game less than 24 hours later.

Losing is part of life, but that doesn’t mean that we should be satisfied with it. It should motivate us to work harder so that it doesn’t happen again. This doesn’t just apply to sports, either; it applies to life. As a business owner, I don’t ever plan to hire someone who is comfortable with sucking.

As a little example, my sophomore year of high school, I lost a tennis match in the state singles qualifier to a kid I should have beaten 100% of the time. It was an all-day event with several rounds on a hot day in May, and I cramped up badly in the third set of the match because I hadn’t hydrated well. That loss stung for months – but you can bet that I never forget to bring enough fluids to matches ever again. I beat the guy easily in straight sets the following year, too. Losing sucks, but it teaches you lessons.

6. Make kids do manual labor.

One of my best childhood friends grew up on a farm. He bailed hay, fed the pigs, shaved the sheep, dug holes, you name it. He was also a physical specimen who won a state championship in wrestling and would run through a wall in practices if you had asked him to do so.

Beyond the obvious physical benefits of manual labor, I think that it teaches you that a job isn’t over until the project is completed. You don’t just go out and shovel snow for 15 minutes; you shovel snow until you’ve shoveled all the snow that needs to be shoveled. This is true of almost all manual labor one would do around the house; it doesn’t have to be an official job.

I love seeing kids who are task oriented and not time oriented.

7. Get kids involved in charity work.

If you’re reading this, your kid is spoiled. What do I mean?

You can actually afford to have the internet. A lot of parents and kids don’t have that luxury – or any of a number of other ones that we take for granted.

This past fall, one of our pro guys was telling me about a mission trip he took to the Dominican Republic. While there, he was volunteering to do baseball clinics for local kids – and he said that they came out in droves for the opportunity to be coached by anybody, and certainly a recognizable professional player.

His exact words: “It completely changed my life. I had no idea what my Latin teammates in pro ball had gone through.” And, this came from a guy who was already one of the most humble players I’ve ever coached.

Whether your kid winds up successful in baseball or not, I feel strongly that it’s important to embrace the concept of giving back – both in one’s own community and beyond. Perspective like this is also important because it makes you realize that making an error in the ninth inning isn’t the end of the world – when you have a roof over your head and food on the table.

8. Make kids get up 10-15 minutes earlier to make and eat breakfast.

It drives me bonkers when I hear a kid say that he can’t find time for breakfast. Don’t find time; make time!

My most productive time of day is 5:30AM-9AM. I didn’t realize this until I was in my mid-20s. I only wish that I’d learned much sooner that good things happen when you get up a little earlier:

a. When you get up earlier, you learn to go to bed earlier. Look at research on shift workers’ long term health, and you’ll quickly realize that sleeping more hours before midnight is great for your health.

b. The morning world is a more enlightened world. As an example, look at TV shows at night versus in the morning. In the evening, you get sitcoms, comedy, violence, and infomercials. In the morning, you get the news.

c. Intermittent fasting discussions aside, the research pretty much supports that people – and particularly kids – who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight. Whether it’s because it leads to eating less later in the day, or because people are more likely to eat quality food at home remains to be determined.

d. The world is a lot quieter in the morning, and silence almost always equates to increased focus and productivity.

9. Set an example.

Overweight parents are more likely to have overweight kids. This is just one way in which kids model parents’ behaviors. Work ethic, attention to detail, punctuality, and a host of other factors follow suit. I love it when parents come in to train at the same time as their kids at our facility - and the kids do, too (contrary to what parents usually assume).

10. Don’t contest grades in school.

Teachers don’t give grades; kids earn grades. If you start contesting grades, where do you stop? Do you call college admissions counselors when kids aren’t accepted to the school of their choice? Do you call potential employers because they won’t hire little Johnny – who is now 23 years old and still has Mommy doing his laundry and cooking him mac ‘n cheese?

If you don’t respect a teacher or coach’s authority and appreciate their good intentions, then your kid won’t, either.

11. Don’t brag about your kid.

A while back, my buddy Bill Hartman said something along the following lines: “No matter how strong you think you are, there is still a 120-pound woman warming up with your max somewhere.” He was spot on.

If you are proud of your kid, tell him so. And, feel free to tell your family members. However, it should stop there. There is absolutely, positively nothing that is a bigger turn-off to a coach or scout – or even another parent – than a parent that brags about his kid. Why?

They have always seen someone better. And, to take it a step further, I’d say that most folks “in the know” actually realize that there is an inverse relationship between how much a parent brags and how talented a kid really is. Anecdotally, the best players with whom I’ve worked all have tremendously humble parents who have worked hard to keep them grounded even if others always told them how good they were.

Bragging is entirely different than giving valuable feedback, though. If a parent has thoughts or suggestions that can benefit me in training a young athlete, I am absolutely all ears. Don’t by shy; just use discretion.

12. Never send college recruiting emails on behalf of your kid.

I have a ton of friends who are college coaches who deal with recruits every single day of the week. I have zero friends who are college coaches who prefer to deal with parents over kids during this recruiting process.

Candidly, when you send an email on behalf of your kid, you’re saying, “I want you to give my son a scholarship to play XYZ sport even though I don’t think he’s qualified to put together a 4-5 sentence email for himself. Also, I wipe his butt for him, and he still wets the bed.”

Coaches love kids that show initiative and aren’t shy about asking questions. And, I can guarantee kids who are more heavily involved in their own college selection process are far less likely to transfer in the years that follow. They get the information they need, not what you need.

At the end of the day, this is about educating kids on how to be proactive and decisive. These two traits go a long way in sports and beyond.

13. Don’t tell coaches to “kick his ass.”

If your kid isn’t tough by his teenage years, it’s not because a coach hasn’t pushed him; it’s likely because parents have let him get away with murder early on and not held him accountable. Me simply kicking a kid's ass increases his risk of injury and the likelihood that he’ll hate exercise and develop a sedentary lifestyle when his athletic career ends. I will, however, challenge him, educate him, and hold him accountable for his actions in my presence.

14. Don’t allow limp handshakes or conversations without eye contact.

This point shouldn’t warrant any explanation, but I would just add that coaches and scouts really do pay attention to things like this. Sprinting out to your position on the field, picking up equipment after a game, and cheering on teammates are all little things you can do to show that you really care. If you approach one part of your life apathetically, who is to say that it won’t carry over to everything else that you do?

15. Surround kids with unconditionally positive people.

Check out this awesome article about the positive response Colorado Rockies players had to the hiring of Dante Bichette as hitting coach a few years ago. I’ve gotten to know Dante pretty well, and he’s one of the most down-to-Earth and optimistic guys you’ll ever meet. In this article, they quoted Carlos Gonzalez – one of the top players in Major League Baseball – as saying, "Just being honest, I don't want a guy who's always being negative. He's been really good for me already." Guys in the big leagues are conditioned more than anyone else to learn to deal with failure; after all, the best hitters on the planet still fail 60-70% of the time! Yet, they STILL generally respond more favorably to people who are positive. Don’t you think that kids who are less prepared would need that unconditionally positive influence even more?

The secret is to find unconditionally positive people who know their stuff and then put your trust in them. You wouldn’t tell your accountant how to do your taxes, and you wouldn’t tell your lawyer how to write up your contracts. So, don’t tell coaches how to do their jobs after you’ve already recognized that they are experts and mentors in their area.

16. Make kids write thank you notes.

A note of appreciation goes a long way, particularly if it is written or typed with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

17. Educate kids on how to read a situation as casual or formal.

Remember back in high school when you had to dress up on game days? Usually, 90% of the team did it the right way – and there were 1-2 schmucks who stubbornly resisted. They didn’t tie their ties tight enough, wore sneakers with dress pants, or continued to let their khakis hang way too far down on their butts. They’re also the people who have to be forced to write the aforementioned thank you notes, and it usually begins with “thx 4 ur gift.” We’ve even had kids submit internship application essays that consisted of one long paragraph with no capitalization at the beginning of sentences. I’m not making this up.

They live in the texting and tweeting world and have no idea when it’s appropriate to be casual versus formal. I’d wager that most of those guys are still living in their parents’ basement, too. Even more now than in previous decades, it’s important to hammer home that kids need to be more formal in writing, conversation, and dress.

18. Educate kids on the dangers of technology.

This was not something that most of us encountered during our younger years, as Twitter and Facebook weren't around until just recently.  Kids have said stupid things since the beginning of time, but not until now was it easy for something dumb on the internet to "go viral" so quickly.  Every week, we hear stories of professional and collegiate athletes getting into trouble for what they post as status updates on social networks.  Athletes have been fined, released, and not signed in the first place because of stupid things they've said online.  While college and professional teams are doing their best to include social networking training in their education of players, it should start well in advance with some common sense talks with parents.  Otherwise, it's possible to undo a lot of good with one bad post.

19. Don’t give participation trophies.

My good friend Alwyn Cosgrove has written in the past about how there are always "overcorrections" in the fitness industry, as the pendulum goes too far in one direction after a long period at the other end of the spectrum.  He cites the public's perception on aerobic exercise, carbohydrate intake, and static stretching as good examples.  We want them all to be bad or good; there is no middle ground.

Participation trophies are the "yin" to the "yang" of the overbearing parent or crazy little league coach.  Rather than bring the pendulum back to center by educating kids that the true reward is the satisfaction that comes from knowing they did the best they could do, we've given every kid a trophy to make him feel special - even though all the kids get the same trophy.  Yes, the kid who shows up late to practice and swears at the coach gets the same trophy as everyone else.

A trophy is something a kid should look back on years later as a reminder of fond memories of hard work, teamwork, and a job well done.  It shouldn't be something that gets thrown in a box with a few dozen other participation trophies that have absolutely no sentimental or educational value.

My biggest concern with participation trophies, however, is that they a) diminish the value of exceptional performance/service and b) condition kids to think that things will always work out okay in the end. Sorry, but the sooner we make kids realize they don't deserve a party every time they accomplish anything, the better off we'll be.

20. Give kids opportunities to demonstrate responsibility – and monitor performance.

I can only imagine how tough it is as a parent to walk the fine line between doing something for your child and just telling him to figure it out for himself.  From my vantage point, though, there needs to be a lot more of the latter.  Maybe I just see it through this lens because I am often going out of my way to encourage parents to force kids to be proactive during the college recruiting process.  And, I like it when kids schedule their sessions with us, rather than the parents sending the email or making the phone call for them.

That said, I love it when I hear about parents giving kids challenges for them to demonstrate responsibility. Whether there are chores with checklists, or they have to take care of pets, I think it's awesome for kids to be faced with new challenges with monitored performance.  Are all the boxes checked?  Is there dog poop on the floor or a dead guppy in the fish bowl?  Candidly, I can't remember the last time that I hear of a kid earning an allowance; does that even happen anymore?  Fostering accountability at a young age is a powerful thing.

Closing Thoughts

It's taken me over 3,800 words to spit out all my random thoughts on this front, but I wanted to finish with one last thought that isn't so random: I think there is a lot that is right about youth sports these days.  More girls are playing sports than ever before. There are loads of wildly passionate coaches out there who are trying to do the right thing. Information on training and coaching is more readily available than ever before. Sports medicine has improved dramatically to help kids with injuries more quickly and effectively. I could go on and on.

We have to remember that at the end of the day, less than 1% of the kids who participate in youth sports will become professional athletes. However, sports are still an outstanding medium through which to instill a variety of favorable qualities beyond just athleticism. To that end, I hope that some of the suggestions here will help to make kids not only better athletes, but better people, too.

For more information, you may be interested in the International Youth Conditioning Association High School Strength and Conditioning Certification; I was a co-author of this resource.

 

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Name
Email
Read more

Youth Strength and Conditioning Programs: “He’s a Big, Strong Kid.”

Recently, while discussing one particular athlete we encountered at Cressey Sports Performance, my staff members and I got on the topic of how it's more of a challenge to train bigger (taller and heavier) young athletes than it is to work with smaller guys.  Interestingly, the challenges come less from the actual physical issues they present and more from the social expectations that surround their size. Here are seven reasons why I cringe when I hear parents say "he's a big, strong kid" when describing their children on the phone.

1. Bigger kids are often forced into sports and positions that may impede their long-term development - When you're the heavy kid, you're automatically pushed toward football and put on the line.  If you're playing baseball, it's first base or catcher.  If it's basketball, you're the power forward.  You get the picture - and similar "pushes" are made on tall kids to play basketball or volleyball.  The problem is that in most cases, these sport and positional "predispositions" put bigger kids in situations where they don't develop in a broad sense because there simply isn't enough variety.

2. Bigger kids usually start weight-training on their own - This point relates closely to point #1.  Unfortunately, when you're already labeled as the next star offensive lineman or power forward and you can already push your buddies around, chances are that you learned to lift with Dad in the basement, from a misinformed football coach, or be screwing around with your buddies.  I would much rather have a completely untrained 16-year-old start up with me than be presented with a 16-year-old with years of poor strength and conditioning programs and coaching under his belt.  This is true regardless of body type, but especially problematic in bigger kids for reasons I outline below.

3. "Strong" has different meanings - Sports require a combination of absolute and relative strength.  Strength is also highly specific to the range of motion (ROM) in which one trains. There is also a difference between concentric and eccentric strength.

What do most big young athletes do when left on their own?  Focus heavily on absolute strength (train what they're good at) through small ROMs (rather than fight their bodies) with concentric-heavy workloads (because pushing a blocking/tackling sled is sexier than a properly executed lunge).

I can count on one hand the number of teenage athletes who were called "big and strong" who have actually showed up on their first day and demonstrated any appreciable level of strength in any context - let alone usable strength that will help them in athletic endeavors.  Usually, we wind up seeing a sloppy 135-pound bench press with the elbows flared, legs kicking, bar bouncing off the chest...in a kid who can't do a push-up.

And this is where the problem arises: kids who have always been told they were strong don't like coming to the realization that they really aren't strong.  We don't have to directly tell them, either; taking them through basic strength exercises with proper form will reveal a lot.  And, there is typically an example of a smaller athlete like this kicking around not too far away.

The kids who check their egos at the door will thrive.  A lot might never come back until they're injured from poor body control or riding the pine because it turns out that their "strengths" really weren't that strong.

4. Bones grow faster than muscles and tendons - In young athletes who haven't gone through the adolescent growth spurt, you often don't have to do any additional static stretching, as a dynamic warm-up and strength training program through a full ROM can cover all their mobility needs.  Unfortunately, when kids grow quickly, the bones lengthen much faster than the muscles and tendons do, so we run into situations where bigger kids have truly short (not just stiff) tissues.  Effectively, this adds one more competing demand for their time and attention - and it's the worst kind to add, as most kids hate to stretch.

5. Being bigger changes one's stabilization strategy -  As I described in great detail in The Truth About Unstable Surface Training, the taller one is, the further the center of gravity is away from the base of support.  As such, taller kids are inherently more unstable than shorter kids - although this can be partially remedied by gaining muscle mass in the lower body to lower the COG and learning to "play lower" in appropriate situations.

cressey-flat-salespage-232x300

Not surprisingly, though, being heavier - particularly with respect to having a belly - can dramatically change one's stability as well.  Carrying belly fat shifts the center of gravity forward - which is why individuals with this "keg" instead of a six-pack appear more lordotic (excessively arched at the lower back).  Compensations for this occur all along the kinetic chain, but the two things I'd highlight the most are:

a. An increased need for anterior core strength - As evidenced by the high incidence of spondylolysis (lumbar spine fractures) and how badly most kids perform on basic prone bridging and rollout challenges, the inability to resist lumbar hyperextension (and excessive rotation) is a serious problem.  The bigger the belly, the more extended the lumbar spine will be.  Just ask any pregnant woman how her back feels during the last trimester.

ghr-300x300

b. Substitution of lumbar (hyper)extension for hip extension - You'll see a lot of big-bellied kids who can't fully extend their hip and instead just arch their back to get to where they need to be.  This is a problem on multiple fronts.  First, the hip extensors are far stronger and more powerful than the lumbar extensors, so performance is severely impaired.  Second, there are huge injury implications both chronically (lumbar stress fractures, hip capsule irritation) and acutely (strained rectus femoris or hamstrings).

Simply dropping some body fat and improving anterior core strength is a huge game-changer for many overweight athletes.  It's not always the answer they want to hear.

6. Bigger kids usually have less work capacity - I've never been a guy who jumped on the work capacity bandwagon, as I feel that it's very activity-specific.  However, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to observe that the more body fat one carries, the more work he'll do oxygenating useless tissue, and the less oxygen he'll get to working muscles.  More importantly, though, try doing your next training session with a 60-pound weight vest on and see what it does to your work capacity.

The lower the work capacity, the less quality work one can accomplish in a strength and conditioning program.  Gains simply don't come as quickly on the strength and fitness side of things - even if body fat is pouring off heavier athletes.  In other words, they've actually sacrificed one window of adaptation (athletic development) in order to make another one (fat loss) larger.

7. I speculate that bigger athletes have an increased prevalence of "subclinical" musculoskeletal pathologies/deviations from normalcy - I've written in the past about how many athletes are just waiting to reach threshold because their MRIs and x-rays look terrible - even if they are completely asymptomatic.  You can see this just about anywhere in the body; most basketball players are just waiting for patellar tendinosis to kick in, and many football lineman are teetering on the brink of a lumbar stress fracture or spondylolisthesis (or both).

The heavier one is - especially in the presence of insufficient relative strength, as noted above - the more pounding one will place on the passive restraints such as the meniscus, intervertebral discs, and labrum.  A bigger belly and the resulting lordosis will drive more anterior pelvic tilt, femoral/tibial internal rotation, and pronation.  How would you like to be the plantar fascia or Achilles tendon in this situation?

Tall athletes tend to slouch more because they have to look down at all their peers.  Get more kyphotic, add some scapular dyskinesis, and see what happens to the rotator cuff, labrum, and biceps tendon over time.

There are countless examples along these lines.  And, to make matters worse, obese individuals are more likely to have inaccurate diagnostic imaging.  In an interview I did with radiologist Dr. Jason Hodges, he commented:

By far, the biggest limitation [to diagnostic imaging] is obesity. All of the imaging modalities are limited by it, mostly for technical reasons. An ultrasound beam can only penetrate so far into the soft tissues. X-rays and CT scans are degraded by scattered radiation, which leads to a higher radiation dose and grainy images. Also, the time it takes to do the study increases, which gives a higher incidence of motion blur.

doctor-1297054_960_720

I want to be very clear; I love dealing with bigger kids just like I do all my other athletes.  We don't lock them in a closet with celery sticks and an exercise bike; we work them hard, but make training fun and support them fully in their quest to fulfill their athletic potential.  Having been an overweight teenage athlete myself, I know that weight management in young athletes is a hugely sensitive subject that must be approached with extreme care.

I also know, however, that in my overweight years, I would have much rather been worked hard like the other athletes and given the opportunity to choose my sport and position of interest rather than pigeonholed into one specific avenue because of my build.  That's where the "big, strong kid" label really concerns me and makes me want to plan out my strategy - both in terms of the physiological and social approach to training - very carefully.

For more information on how we train young athletes, I'd encourage you to check out the IYCA High School Strength Coach Certification, which I co-authored.

hssc_400_wide-300x243

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a deadlift technique tutorial!

Name
Email
Read more

Youth Strength and Conditioning Programs: Systems, Not Just Sets and Reps

Back in November of 2010, a good buddy of mine who is a very accomplished college strength coach came up to Boston for a seminar we were hosting at Cressey Sports Performance.  The seminar was on a Sunday, but he actually flew up Friday night so that he could observe on Saturday while we trained our clients – which was a nice blend of high school, college, and professional athletes, plus our adult clientele.  All told, at the time, I’d say that high school athletes were 70% of our clientele.

That Tuesday morning, I woke up to this email from him:

“I just wanted to say thanks for everything.  I had a great time.  Your staff was outstanding and I really enjoyed watching you guys work on Saturday.  I realize you are managers, but certainly technicians as well.  Perfect form, I told Tony I saw two bad reps all weekend and someone was on the athlete before he had a chance to do another rep!!!   Thanks so much and come visit anytime, we would love to have you.”

This isn’t an email to toot our own horn; it’s to make a very valuable point.  If this coach had walked into every single private training facility and high school weight room in the country, in what percentage of cases do you think he would have come out with a favorable impression of the technique he witnessed in these strength and conditioning programs?  If I had to venture an extremely conservative guess, I’d say less than 10%.

Simply stated, both in the public and private sectors, some coaches are letting kids get away with murder with respect to technique, not warming up, poor load selection in weight training programs, and a host of other factors.

What happens, then, when the s**t hits the fan and a kid gets hurt?  I’ll tell you: certain exercises get “condemned” and strength and conditioning programs become more and more foo-foo; external loading is eliminated and kids wind up doing agility ladders and “speed training” for 60-90 minutes at a time in what can only be described as glorified babysitting.  Or, worse yet, weight rooms get closed altogether.  The door of opportunity gets slammed in the faces of a lot of kids who desperately need to get strong to stay healthy, improve performance, and build confidence.

That’s the reactive model, but what about a proactive model to prevent these issues in the first place?  Again, I’ll tell you: assess kids up-front.  Find out what is in their health history and evaluate how well they move.  Actually learn their names and backgrounds.  Then, program individually for them.  Coach intensely in their initial sessions and get things right from the start.  And, if an exercise doesn’t work for them, give them an alternative.

As an example, take the squat.  Some kids may not have sufficient ankle or hip mobility to squat deep in an Olympic style squat, so they’ll benefit more (and stay healthier) with box squat variations or single-leg exercises while you improve their mobility.  Others may even be too immobile (or possess structural issues like femoroacetabular impingement) to even box squat safely, so you give them more single-leg work and deadlift variations.  Regardless, you “coach ‘em up” well from the get-go – and they learn along the way.

In other words, the exercises aren’t the problem because exercises can be quickly and easily changed on the fly to match the athlete's level of abilities.  It’s the system in which they are placed that can be the stubborn, tough-to-change problem.

If you're struggling to get results with your youth strength and conditioning programs - or your business itself is struggling - be sure to look at your business model and overall systems before you start tinkering with the individual exercises.  Chances are that you need to rededicate yourself to relationship building and individualization more than you need to worry about sets and reps.

If you're looking to learn more about training young athletes, I'd encourage you to check out Mike Boyle's resource, Complete Youth Training. In it, he touches on everything from the problems with early specialization to age-specific training stages. It's a good investment for parents and coaches alike. From now through January 4, you can get $50 off on the resource. No coupon code is needed; just head HERE.

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a deadlift technique tutorial!

Name
Email
Read more

Your Arm Hurts? Thank Your Little League, AAU, and Fall Ball Coaches.

I have a policy when it comes to my writing:

If something is going to be controversial and potentially elicit a negative response from my readers, I "sit" on the topic for 24 hours.  During that time, I weigh the decision of whether me publicly writing about something is for the better good - meaning that it'll help people in the long-term even if it makes them recognize that they've been goofing up in the short-term.

I did some thinking on that front last night (actually, for the past several nights), and decided to go through with this blog, as I feel like it's something that every single baseball player, parent, and especially coach ought to read.  So, if you're in one of those categories - or are just a baseball fan who loves the game - please spread the word on what you're about to read, whether it's with a Facebook "recommend," "Tweet," or just a friendly email with the link to this article.

If you've perused my Baseball Content page much in the past, you'll know that I don't try to hide the fact that throwing a baseball is an incredibly unnatural and flat-out dangerous motion.  It's the single-fastest motion in all of sports, and every day, physically unprepared athletes go out and essentially play with fire every single time they try to light up a radar gun - or even just play catch.

Not surprisingly, when you mix physically unprepared bodies with arguably the most dangerous sporting challenge on the planet (the folks in Pamplona, Spain might argue with me, but that's a blog for another day), athletes get hurt.  Arm injuries (like all youth sports injuries) are rising exponentially thanks to not "less athletic athletes" taking part in high-risk sports, but also this participation taking place at all-time high rates thanks to the proliferation of little league all-star teams, AAU teams, fall ball, private pitching instruction, and the baseball showcase industry.  A fantastic study by Olsen et al. in 2006 (must-read for anyone involved in baseball development) clearly demonstrated strong associations between injuries requiring surgery and pitching "more months per year, games per year, innings per game, pitches per game, pitches per year, and warm-up pitches before a game" as well as showcase appearances during adolescence.  The message was very clear: throw too much - especially at a young age - and you're going to wind up hurt.

Unfortunately, though, many people glaze over numbers in studies (if they ever read them), and while they may walk away with the "overuse is bad" message, they don't appreciate what true overuse really is - especially since it's age-dependent.  Fortunately, a February 2011 study from Fleisig et al. showed in no uncertain terms that, in ages 9-14, throwing more than 100 innings per year was associated with a 3.5 times higher risk of elbow or shoulder surgery - or retirement altogether.

To put this into context, I'll first ask you: do you realize how challenging it is to throw 100 innings in a little league season?  Let’s say you start baseball the first week of April (little league) and even manage to play on a summer team that runs through the end of July.  That’s a four month season: exactly what I was accustomed to growing up - at the absolute most.

If you look at the Major League Baseball leaders in innings pitched, those at the top of the list generally throw about 35 innings per month (4-5 starts each). In other words, high-performance, skeletally mature pitchers in the most elite baseball league in the world are on pace for roughly 140 innings pitched over the first four months of the year.  However, there are parents and coaches out there that actually think it's okay to send an 11-year old out there for a comparable number of innings?  It's especially troublesome when you realize that younger kids always throw more pitches per inning than their older counterparts, as they don't have good command and insist on trying to strike everyone out instead of pitching to contact here and there.

CKluber_Indns

Just think about how hard that is to do.  Major League pitchers throw on a five-day rotation, and Little league games are, at most, twice a week.  If a kid pitches once a week for four months, even if he throws complete games every time out (not something I'd advise, for the record), he'd still struggle to hit 100 innings (16 starts x 7 inning games =112 innings).  Rats!  It's actually tough to overuse kids when the season is kept in check.

So, instead, they add seasons.  Join an AAU team (or seven of them). Play fall ball so that you can rack up another seven innings every weekend.  Be sure to hit up a few college camps on Saturdays and throw as hard as you can so that your Sunday outing in 25-degree weather is extra miserable.  Make sure you see your pitching coach for bullpens as soon as fall ball ends.  Get your registration in early for that showcase that's taking place the first week in January.  Just do some band work and a couple of half-ass stretches and you'll be fine.  Riiiight....good thinking.

At risk of sounding arrogant, I'm good at what I do.  I've devoted my life to keeping baseball players healthy. They comprise 85% of our clientele at Cressey Performance, and I work with millions of dollars of arms every off-season and see players from ages 9 to 50+. I do my best to surround myself with the smartest people in strength and conditioning, rehabilitation, and skill-specific training in and outside of the game.  I managed the first subpectoral biceps tenodesis in major league history. I can talk mechanics with the best pitching coaches around, write strength and conditioning and throwing programs, manually stretch guys, you name it.  I've got two fantastic therapists in my office to do massage, ART, Graston, chiropractic adjustments, and a host of other manual therapy approaches - not to mention great physical therapists nearby who can handle all our complex cases.  You know the only things I, we, or anybody on this planet can't control?

Poor judgment by athletes and their parents and coaches.

And that - no doubt about it - is the primary reason that kids get hurt.  We can do all the strength training, mobility work, and soft tissue treatments in the world and it won't matter if they're overused - because I'm just not smart enough to have figured out how to go back in time and change history. Worried about whether they're throwing curveballs, or if their mechanics are perfect?  It won't matter if they've already accumulated too many innings.

While athletes might be playing with fire each time they throw, the pain presentation pattern is different.  You burn your hand, and you know instantly.  Pitching injuries take time to come about. Maybe you do microscopic damage to your ulnar collateral ligament each time you throw - and then come back and pitch again before it's had time to fully regenerate.  Or, maybe you ignore the shoulder internal rotation deficit and scapular dyskinesis you've got and it gets worse and worse for years - until you're finally on the surgeon's table for a labral and/or rotator cuff repair.  These issues might be managed conservatively if painful during the teenage years (or go undetected if no pain is present) - but once a kid hits age 18 or 19, it seems to automatically become "socially acceptable" to do an elbow or shoulder surgery.

Of course, this isn't just applicable to coaches in the 9-14 age group.  You see "criminal" pitch counts in the high school and collegiate ranks as well, and while they may be more physically mature than the 9-14 year-olds, that doesn't mean that they're exempt from the short- and long-term consequences.

This is why we need the best coaches at the youngest levels.  It's also why we need pitching coaches that understand "managing pitchers" as much as - if not more than - teaching pitching mechanics.  And, it's why coaches need to understand the big picture in terms of what different kids can do at different ages, at different times in the year.

It's also while parents need to be proactive with their young pitchers.  If a coach isn't going to track his innings - and a 9-year-old kid certainly can't be expected to do so - the parent needs to step up and do so.  I've met a lot of parents of kids who have been injured at ages 17-21, and most of them look back with a lot of anger toward coaches at younger levels for overusing their sons.  Hindsight is always 20/20, but foresight is what saves an arm.  Don't be afraid to step up and say something, as you aren't telling a coach how to do his job; you're protecting your kid, just as you would be locking the door at night or making sure he brushes his teeth.

In terms of planning the competitive year, I have no problem with a 9-14 year-old kid playing baseball 4-5 months of the year, as the other 7-8 months per year should be devoted to at least two other sports.  It's basically the "rule of thirds" for long-term athletic development: three sports, four months apiece.  Kids can strength-train year round.

At ages 15-16, I'm fine with kids changing things up and going to only two sports.  Baseball might occupy 7-8 months, but a big chunk of that should be focused on preparation.  So, a kid might start playing catch in November, start his high school season in March, and then play summer ball through the end of July.  August through November would be devoted to a fall sport and fall ball would be altogether omitted, as it was the only idea worse than making Rocky V.  Kids would, of course, strength-train year-round.

At ages 17 and up, it's fine with me if you want to specialize in baseball, but that doesn't mean you should play year-round.  I actually advocate kids only throw for 8-9 months of the year (at most) - which is right on par with what most professional players do.  The only thing that'd be different is that the season would be shifted up a bit in the year, as the high school season usually starts a few weeks before the professional season.  Pro guys get half of October, then all November and December off from throwing.  "Specialized" high school players get August, September, and October off (again, because fall ball is as useful as a trap door in a lifeboat).  Strength training is year-round.

You'll notice that there isn't a single penny spent on off-season baseball showcases.  That wasn't an accidental omission (read here why I don't like them).  If you insist on going to one, pick one between June and early August.

I'm convinced that the next big thing in Major League Baseball's "scouting revolution" is meticulously analyzing what players did when they were younger.  If they are going to draft kids, they want to know that they haven't been overworked for years prior to entering professional baseball.  You're already seeing this taking place in collegiate baseball based more on an assumption: pitchers from the North are getting more and more opportunities to play down South because coaches recruit them (beyond just talent) under the assumption that they've accumulated less wear and tear on their arms.

This piece might have ruffled some feathers.  Kids want to play year-round.  Parents want to make kids happy - and they enjoy watching them play.  You know what else?  Kids love chocolate, and parents want to see kids happy - but that doesn't mean that kids should get a limitless amount of chocolate to consume, right?  You put away the Easter candy this week to stress moderation and look out for their long-term well-being.

Coaches enjoy coaching and want to win - and they may take a commentary like this personally because they're the ones who sent a 9-year-old out for 120 innings one year - and now he's the one having the elbow surgery.  Or, maybe it's the college coach who let a kid throw 160 pitches in a game and killed his draft status because teams know he'll have a shoulder surgery in three years.  Admitting you're wrong is hard enough, but admitting you're wrong and learning from that mistake to help future kids is even harder - but all the more rewarding.

This post wasn't intended to make anyone feel bad, but bring to light an issue (throwing volume) that I think is the absolute most important consideration when taking care of arms.  We can do everything right in terms of physical preparation, but if you throw too much - especially at vulnerable ages - none of it matters.

Again, if you could help spread the word on this, I'd really appreciate it.  And, feel free to comment below; I'm here to help.

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!

 

Name
Email
Read more

Lower Back Pain, Diesel Little Leaguers, and Resistance Training Solutions

Here are a few blasts from the past that you definitely ought to check out: Lower Back Pain and the Fitness Professional - It's amazing how many fitness professionals know NOTHING about lower back pain even though it will occur at one point or another in every single one of their clients. Can Little Leaguers Strength Train? - It's a question I get all the time - and this was my first response to the inquiry a few years ago.  I updated this and got a bit more detailed and geeky in a follow-up, The Truth about Strength Training for Kids. Solutions to Lifting Problems - This T-Muscle article is a must-read for anyone who wants to be able to stay the course even when setbacks occur along the resistance training journey. Lastly, for those who are looking to shed some pounds over the holidays while everyone else is packing 'em on, check out these two free Holiday Fat Loss special reports from Joel Marion.  Joel's got some quick and easy to apply tips you can put to use right away. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter:
Name
Email
Read more

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

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. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter:

Name
Email
Read more

Coordination Training: A Continuum of Development for Young Athletes

Today's guest blog comes from Brian Grasso, the director of the International Youth Conditioning Association. The myths and falsehoods associated with coordination training are plenty.  I'll outline the "Top 3" here: 1.       Coordination is a singular element that is defined by a universal ability or lack of ability 2.       Coordination cannot be trained nor taught 3.       Coordination-based stimulus should be restricted to preadolescent children This article will provide a broad-based look at each of those myths and shed some light on the realities behind coordination training as a continuum for the complete development of young athletes aged 6 - 18.

young-athletes

1. Coordination & Young Athletes Largely considered a singular facet of athletic ability, it is not uncommon to hear coaches, parents or trainers suggest that a given young athlete possess "good" or "bad" coordination. This generalization does not reflect the true nature of the beast, or specific features that combine to create coordination from a macro-perspective.  Coordination is, in reality, comprised of several different characteristics:
  • Balance - a state of bodily equilibrium in either static or dynamic planes
  • Rhythm - the expression of timing
  • Movement Adequacy - display of efficiency or fluidity during locomotion
  • Synchronization of Movement - harmonization and organization of movement
  • Kinesthetic Differentiation - the degree of force required to produce a desired result
  • Spatial Awareness - ability to know where you are in space and in relation to objects
While many of these traits have great overlap and synergy, they are unmistakably separate and can, in fact, be improved in relatively isolated ways.  That's not to suggest that your training programs should necessarily look to carve up the elements of coordination and work through them in a solitary manner.  Just a notation intended to show that coordination as it relates to young athletes can be improved at the micro level.

youth-soccer

2. Coordination - Can You Teach Young Athletes? The answer, in short, is yes. Coordination ability is not unlike any other biomotor; proficiencies in strength, speed, agility and even cardiovascular capacity (through mechanical intervention) can be taught, and at any age. The interesting caveat with coordination-based work, however, is that its elements are tied directly to CNS development and therefore have a natural sensitive period along a chronological spectrum.  The actuality of sensitive periods tends to be a contentious topic amongst researchers and many coaches.  Some of these individuals are not satisfied with current research and are therefore not eager to believe in their existence and others who accept sensitive periods of development to be perfectly valid.  It's worth pointing out that I am in no way a scientist or researcher, but have read numerous books and research reviews on the subject and feel satisfied that they do exist and can be maximized (optimized for a lifetime) through proper stimulus. This "optimization" issue is the true crux of the matter.  Especially during the very early years of life (0 - 12 years) the CNS contains a great deal of plasticity, or ability to adapt.  This plastic nature carries through the mid-adolescence, but then significantly decreases from there.  Many mistake this point as an implication that the human organism cannot learn new skills in any capacity once their CNS has passed the point of being optimally plastic, but this is not true.  Skill of any athletic merit can be learned at virtually any age throughout life.  What the plasticity argument holds is that these skills could never be optimized if they were not introduced at a young age. Why Michael Couldn't Hit: And Other Tales of The Neurology of Sports is a fascinating book by Dr. Harold Klawans.  Klawans presents a review of his prediction that Michael Jordan, one of the greatest athletes of all time, would not become an extraordinary baseball player during his attempts to do so with the Chicago White Sox.

whymichaelcouldnthit

Dr. Klawans contented that because Jordan did not learn or practice the specific motor and hand-eye aspects of hitting baseballs when he was young, no matter how great an athlete he was, he would never be able to do so at an advanced level. Inevitably, Dr. Klawans was correct. The case for neural plasticity suggests that during the formative years of growth, it is imperative that young athletes be introduced to all types of stimulus that fuel improvement to the elements of coordination listed earlier.  This is one of the very critical reasons that all young athletes should play a variety of sports seasonally and avoid any sort of "sport specific" training.  Unilateral approaches to enhancing sport proficiency will meet with disastrous results from a performance standpoint if general athletic ability, overall coordination and non-specific load training is not reinforced from a young age. This bring us to the final myth... 3. Teenage Athletes Are 'Too Old' Now, while there is truth to the matter that many of the sensitive periods for coordination development exist during the preadolescent phase of life, it would be shortsighted to suggest that teenage athletes should not be exposed to this type of training. Firstly, much of the training of coordination takes the form of injury prevention.  Any sort of "balance" exercise, for example, requires proprioceptive conditioning and increases in stabilizer recruitment.  With "synchronization of movement," large ROM and mobility work is necessary.  "Kinesthetic differentiation," by definition, involves sub-maximal efforts or "fine-touch" capacity that is a drastically different stimulus than most young athletes are used to in training settings. Beyond that, there is the matter of motor skill linking.  According to Jozef Drabik, as much as 60% of the training done by Olympic athletes should take the form of non-direct load (i.e. non-sport-specific).  To truly stimulate these rather advanced athletes however, one option (which is a standard during the warm-up phase of a training session) is to link advanced motor skills (coordination exercises) together creating a complex movement pattern.

Layout 1

For example: Run Forward ---> Decelerate ---> 360 Jump ---> Forward Roll ---> Tuck Jump Or Scramble to Balance ---> 1-Leg Squat ---> A Skips ---> Army Crawl ---> Grab Ball/Stand/Throw to Target In each of these patterns, we have represented:
  • Spatial Awareness
  • Synchronization of Movement
  • Balance (dynamic and static)
  • Movement Adequacy
  • Kinesthetic Differentiation
  • Rhythm
I have used warm-up sequences just like these with high school, collegiate and professional athletes from a variety of sports. 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. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter:
Name
Email
Read more

The Truth About Strength Training for Kids

A while back, I attended a seminar in Houston, and while the primary topic was how to improve pitching performance, one of my biggest takeaways was with respect to adolescent physiological development.  Long-time Phillies rehabilitation consultant Phil Donley presented some excellent data on when bones actually become skeletally mature.  The next day, another speaker made a what was, in my opinion, an uninformed comment about how kids shouldn't strength train at young ages because it would stunt their growth.

Let's start with Donley's very intriguing numbers (which have actually been available in the literature for over two decades now); we'll stick with the shoulder girdle just to keep things to-the-point.  In a baseball population, the epiphysial plate most commonly injured from throwing at the shoulder is located at the proximal humerus (Little League Shoulder); this physis (growth plate) accounts for about 80% of humeral growth, and matures by age 19 in most folks.

growthplates

We've seen a lot of kids come through our door with this issue because of throwing (internal rotation of the humerus during throwing is the fastest motion in sports) and even some traumatic falls - but I can honestly say that I've NEVER seen one from strength training.  So, anecdotal evidence for me shows that strength training for kids is far from what could be considered "dangerous" for developing bones.

youthpitcher

Now, here's where it gets more interesting: bone maturation isn't uniform across the body.  While the proximal humeral growth plate might mature at 19, the distal (down by the elbow) physis is finished between ages 10 and 16.  The proximal and distal radius plates might mature anywhere between 14 and 23.  Meanwhile, the clavicle matures at ages 22-25, and the scapula generally matures by age 22.  How many of you have ever heard of a college football being held out of weight training for all four years of his participation because all that bench pressing might stunt the growth of his clavicles and scapulae?  It just doesn't happen!  In reality, we know that the strength training benefits of increased muscle size and strength actually protect him from injury on the field.

youthbaseball

In other words, violent (throwing) and traumatic (falling) events far exceed any stress on a young athlete's bones that we could possibly apply in a strength training setting, where the environment is controlled and overload is gradually and systematically increased over time as the athlete becomes more comfortable with it.  I'd make the argument that a young athlete should start resistance training as early as his/her attention span allows for it; the emphasis, of course, would be on body weight exercises, technical improvement, and - most importantly - keeping things fun.

If you really think about it, an athlete is placing a ton of stress (4-6 times body weight in ground reaction forces, depending on who you ask) each time he/she strides during the sprinting motion.  Kids jump out of trees all the time.  They lug around insanely heavy backpacks relative to their body mass.  Performance, general health, and self-esteem benefits aside, it's only right to give them a fighting chance in trying to avoid injury.

Also, another great point Phil made (although it was on an unrelated topic, it pertains to us) was that as an adolescent athlete grows, his center of gravity moves further up from the ground.  This is a big part of the "lapse" in coordination we see in kids during their growth spurts.  A little bit of strength goes a long way with respect to maintaining the center of gravity within the base of support, and makes an athlete more comfortable "playing low" (hip and knee flexion) to bring that center of gravity closer to the base of support.

All that said, appropriate resistance training is not only safe for kids; it's also tremendously beneficial.  In a review just published by Faigenbaum and Myer, the authors concluded:

Current research indicates that resistance training can be a safe, effective and worthwhile activity for children and adolescents provided that qualified professionals supervise all training sessions and provide age-appropriate instruction on proper lifting procedures and safe training guidelines. Regular participation in a multifaceted resistance training program that begins during the preseason and includes instruction on movement biomechanics may reduce the risk of sports-related injuries in young athletes.

Dr. Avery Faigenbaum has actually published a ton of great research (including position stands for numerous organizations) on the topic of strength training for kids in recent years; you can find all of it by searching for his last name at www.pubmed.com.

In the meantime, I hope this blog can help to eliminate the gross misconception in the general population that resistance training can't be beneficial for children.  When performed correctly and made fun, it is safe and provides tremendous benefits to kids in both the pre-adolescent and adolescent stages.

For more information on the best approaches to training youth athletes, I'd encourage you to check out the International Youth Conditioning Association's High School Strength and Conditioning Certification, a resource I co-authored.

Sign-up today for our FREE baseball newsletter and receive a 47-minute presentation on individualizing the management of overhead throwing athletes!


Name
Email
Read more

Fit Tips Archive

Keeping kids healthy involves so much more than annual checkups and immunizations. Exercise, recreational fun and good nutrition are all part of the road to good, life-long health. The Pediatrics Now Fit Tips Team includes some of the most highly respected youth sports experts and trainers in the field today. These talented guys are are not only going to provide us with tips on keeping our kids fit but in helping us negotiate the often confusing world of youth sports today. We recognize that you are doing a lot of amazing things to keep your family healthy but that you are also all very busy and finding the time to keep everyone on track is often really daunting. Small Changes, Big Results is designed to help you and your family make realistic changes to your every day lives that will help you improve the health of your mind, body and soul. The results may not happen over night, and may not require you to do more than tweak a few things here and there, but the impact on your over all health will be enormous! Continue Reading...
Read more
Page 1 2
LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series