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Training Youth Athletes

A common question that I hear is, “how old do you have to be to start training at your facility?”  To me this is a pretty easy question to answer, but also a loaded answer.

When we talk about athletic development, there are a few windows of opportunity that we can expect to use to enhance performance in athletes.  Just because I have a window of opportunity to advance an athletes potential doesn’t mean I need to get all sport specific with it.  In previous articles I have eluded to spending a great deal of time developing the foundation for youth athletes, or general prep if that is easier to remember.  Just because I have an opportunity to improve athletic ability in a youth athlete doesn’t mean I need to make them proficient in 1RM cleans.  I “can” hold a firecracker in my hand and light it, but it wouldn’t be very intelligent.  Just like I “can” develop maximal cleans in a 10-year-old, but that still isn’t very intelligent.

The lost art of development, playing on the playground.  There are even schools where you aren’t allowed to run!  All because there is a fear of children getting hurt.  I could jump onto my soap box and have a complete rant, but I will stay on point here.  Kids in preschool, elementary, and middle school all are allotted time to go out and play.  They jump, run, bound, throw, play tag, etc.  If that isn’t athletic development I don’t know what is.  I spend the first 30 minutes of training sessions warming up and working on running, jumping, throwing, and agility.  These are the showcase items for my older athletes.

Specializing kids too early is a sure fire way to burn a kid out from ever wanting to play that sport again.  It’s also a great way for a kid to resent their parent.  Allowing a child to participate in a variety of events allows for better athletic development.  Experiencing movements outside of what is normal in their favorite sport will allow them to become more agile and athletic.

What can a child who hasn’t hit puberty expect to do and see?  There is no reason to take a prepubescent child and load them up under the bar.  Develop their ability to perform these exercises that you want to accomplish in the long term development plan.  Squatting, hinging, pressing, pulling are all exercises that can start off with simple body weight.  Once they become proficient in these bodyweight exercises you can consider handling a light weight.  Then slightly heavier.  And heavier.  The point is that these kids will become stronger (mostly through their nervous system adaptation), but not exactly larger.  How could they? They haven’t even hit puberty yet.

Once they hit puberty, the long term plan continues.  Start adding heavier weight and adding new challenges.  They will become more powerful, faster, stronger, insert any synonym.  They now have the hormonal profile to support what you are throwing at them.  But a word of caution: don’t throw the kitchen sink at them.  Allow for normal development.  The newest, coolest thing isn’t the best option.  Often times the new workout it either a fad or a new way of eliciting a response in an athlete who has already developed their foundation.

To sum up, kids can virtually start at any age, however, I wouldn’t really recommend them starting too early.  I have nine and 10 year olds at our facility, but realistically a mentor of mine said 11 years old is a great age to begin.  I’ll stick with that.

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Long-Slow Distance Cardio

First off, it has been a little bit since my last check-in.  I have been busy with licensure testing, changing a few details professionally, and jumping right into some continuing education.  All those things, plus I have been coaching a high school lacrosse team in the area.

I was kicking back, sipping on a nice cup of coffee the other morning, reading over some “professional development” type material, when I came across a post along the lines of “why do long slow distance aerobic work?”  That  post of course got some great professional feedback, but it got me thinking too.

Most of what I was reading in terms of feedback was along the lines of: why indeed?  Now, I like bang for the buck type exercise regimens.  I feel as though we do a really good job of accomplishing both anaerobic and aerobic work in a relatively short period of time on a daily basis at our facility.  By using simple concepts like HIIT in our lifts we are able to develop strength and power via resistance training at appropriate, demanding percentages; and, also tax the aerobic system at the same time.  We also incorporate a conditioning portion after the lift that works usually on some type of lactic or alactic interval (think Certified Conditioning Coach)  in the preseason phases.

But where can we fit in the long-slow distance type conditioning???

This is where I reflect back to my magical weekend at IFAST, listening to Joel himself hurl information grenades at all of us innocent Performance Coaches.  In a very organized manner, he managed to explain to us how to use each concept that he has written about in books like “Ultimate MMA Conditioning”.  Long story short, one cannot sustain all out lactic intervals 7 days a week for very long.  This makes sense, right?!

With all the concepts in strength and conditioning regarding the importance of the nervous system, this should be a no-brainer.  Simply put, sometimes it is just better to let your foot off the gas pedal, slow down, and let your body (and nervous system) relax.  Let’s find that parasympathetic state for once in our training year.

Now that both sides of the continuum are screaming at me, let me elaborate.  First off, no, I do not think that you should be performing long-slow distance aerobic conditioning all year round–unless your sport is running a marathon or the Tour de France in which case you still shouldn’t do it on consecutive days.  Will you see strength and therefore power decrements as a result? Maybe.  Will you be introducing a new variable into your training regimen? Absolutely!  Cooling the jets for a few weeks will not have an absurd impact on strength/power/muscle fiber type.  But, it may afford you the potential to get even better because you let the body experience a new stimulus.

Personally, I don’t like long distance cardio.  I get bored with it, unless I am chasing a ball or object.  Cycling is more doable, but still, the struggle is real.  However, when no one is watching, I will jump on the Assault Bike for about 45-60 minutes and get in a good cardio sesh.