Training Middle School-Early High School Level Student-Athletes. What are we Looking to Accomplish.
By now I hope the training world is up to speed with research to know that young kids not only can, but absolutely should lift weights. Given this, it’s important to understand why it is so important and what we should look to accomplish with our young beginners.
Goal #1: Neurological efficiency.
Everyone knows that weight training leads to muscle growth, but another and arguably more important effect is the effect on the central nervous system. Our body contains many motor units which consist of a neuron and all the muscle fibers to which that neuron innervates. This is how our brain sends a message to the muscle to contract. Our strength is very much determined by the efficiency of our central nervous system. The more motor units the brain can fire simultaneously, the stronger one is likely to be. Along with strength, the efficiency of the nervous system dictates coordination and motor control. We see many athletes start out with a visible lack of control of the body in athletic movement.
When athletes start weight lifting, particular in pre-pubescent years, the majority of gains made from training are neurological. These results often occur very quickly. Very often we will have an athlete on their first day display a very weak squat pattern (knees caved in, bent way over, no depth control, weight shifting on to toes,) and within a few workouts is much improved.
Goal #2: Develop fundamental movement patterns.
Going off the last point, we want to develop the full body, compound movement patterns that make up the majority of weight lifting and athletics. Each of these start with a baseline pattern which progresses into the more traditional big lifts we all know. For example, we don’t want to throw a 12 year old into bench pressing until they can perform a good push up. Here’s a few examples of progressions in movement patterns that we use in most starters.
Goal #3: Learn to develop tension and joint stability.
One missing factor that most young athletes have when starting in learning these movement patterns is developing tension. When descending into a squat or hinge pattern, one must have tension in the abs, lats, and hamstrings. Without this support, once cannot sustain load in these movements.
Goal #4: Deceleration and landing mechanics.
While every athlete wants to get fast, with our beginners, it is imperative to learn how to safely bring the body back to a stable position. Most injuries in athletics are actually the result of a fast, uncontrolled muscle contraction or change of direction. Training at high speed without learning how to properly slowdown is like flying on a plane without knowing how to land.
Similarly, we want to learn properly landing mechanics for when our feet leave the ground. Our training programs include lots of jumping volume for power development. Before we start knocking out 40+ inch box jumps, we must learn how to land on our feet in safe position. Free falling and landing on the toes with the knees caved in is a recipe for disaster and transfers to poor mechanics in sprint technique.
#4 Develop work ethic!!
#5 UNDERSTAND GYM SAFTEY AND ETIQUETTE.
LESS IMPORTANT GOALS WHEN STARTING WITH YOUNG ATHLETES
#1: Aerobic and Endurance work.
Work capacity is of course very important for any human. However, from our experience, this is an area where our young athletes get plenty of work with outside of the gym. We want to use our limited time we have with our clients on their WEAKNESSES, which are more times than not, movement quality, strength, power, and stability.
#2: Stretching and flexibility
Seeing poor movement in a young athlete can often be misrepresented and a lack of mobility issue. Nine times out of ten, the issue is actually HYPERMOBILITY. See our post on the impact of strength and stability on mobility.