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Age Appropriate Strength & Performance Training

Written by Joe Chiaramonte AT, ATC, CSCS
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Joe ChiaramonteIn recent years there has been much discussion on training for our adolescent athletes and what is appropriate, whether it be how much, how soon, how specialized? While there are not many definitive answers to these specific inquiries, we, at the Academy of Sports & Wellness believe in a model that keeps the individual athlete’s well being and safety as the central emphasis.

Gone are the days of old (even 20 years ago) when kids rode their bikes around the neighborhood to their friend’s houses or to school. Gone are the days of climbing trees or playing on playgrounds with monkey bars and balance beams. It is rare that a simple game of “tag” pops up in the schoolyard anymore. We are quick to “roll out the balls” and practice baseball/basketball/football/soccer specific drills and games and the like instead of reinforcing basic human movement patterns. We have a generation of students that spend countless hours on their phones and computers, or gaming and watching TV. We have kids that can do amazing things with the soccer ball at their feet, but cannot skip or do a forward roll.

Why is this important? Well, skipping is a motor coordination movement associated with running and jumping. How can a forward roll help sports performance? Have you ever fallen down in a sports contest and had to get up to chase someone? Better yet, if you don’t accommodate your body to LEARN how to fall (i.e. a roll) then how will it remember how to protect itself when we do get tackled to the ground? These are just observations that strength coach’s mind goes to when they see improper or deficient movements patterns that aren’t addressed or ignored.

Often times we are in a rush to coach kids to be better than they can be. We do college type drills with 10 year olds, or we “condition” 12 year olds for an hour, not knowing what all that running is doing to them physically and mentally. There are coaches who expect their 8th graders to be bench-pressing real loads when they cannot perform 10 solid push-ups. These examples are all a recipe for disaster. It’s hard to hit the game winning shot from the training room because you are injured from improper training.

RS943 shutterstock 83274430At the Academy, we have a simple philosophy that is backed up by evidence-based research. MOVE WELL, MOVE STRONG, MOVE FAST. Gary Schofield, of Greater Atlanta Christian School and Fred Eaves out of Battle Ground Academy in Nashville are big proponents of the “slow-cooking” of our athletes. In other words, start them young and progress them slowly. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) has a position statement on Long-Term Athletic Development (LTAD) that details 10 key pillars of a successful training program. These include looking at proper supervision and age appropriate coaching, promoting multi-sport participation and incorporating an age appropriate strength training protocol.

How does the Academy and it strength and conditioning staff train their student athletes? Well, any credentialed and educated coach will screen each athlete’s movements in order to determine a baseline level of movement and strength. They then develop exercises and drills that will enhance the good movement qualities while addressing any bad motor patterns that may exist. Main components that are often noticed by our staff include mobility(flexibility) and stability(strength) issues. More specifically, athletes tend to have tight hamstrings/hip flexors/upper traps and shoulders/ankles. Athletes have weak glutes/core/rotator cuff/upper back muscles. We do our best to address those issues first. If there are imbalances between each arm or leg, we address those because of the potential for injury. We are firm believers of a graduated safe return to play protocol that gives that extra set of clearance after surgery to ensure successful return without re-injury. Our Physical Therapists and Certified Athletic Trainers are well educated on these standards and have the trust and support of many sports medicine entities across the West Michigan.

Finally, it is important to address a couple of specific questions related to youth training.

When can my athlete start lifting weights?
The NSCA’s position statement states pre-adolescence (7-8 y/o) is a safe age to begin resistance training with graduated modalities and loads. Basically, if the athlete is ready for organized sports, they are ready for some kind of resistance training.

Why can’t I just buy a Blu-ray workout for my adolescent to train by?
No athlete is the same, and doing a cookie-cutter workout without properly screening for potential injury risk would be negligent. The risk is too great to potentially hurt an athlete by trying to perform exercises their bodies cannot physically handle.

What should I look for with overtraining?
Ongoing decreased performance on field. Often injured or sick. Disengagement from sport and school. Mood swings. Physically tired all the time. Sleep issues. Over reactive emotional response to failure. Depression. Nutrition issues.

For more on Strength & Conditioning or to inquire about training with us at the Academy for Sports & Wellness, please visit www.pt-cpr.com





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