How young is too young to start training?: Part 2
In this second part of our 3 part series on the age at which it is appropriate for youths to start strength and conditioning, we are going to take a closer look at how a youth strength and conditioning programme should look. If you missed part 1, which showed that youth resistance training is in no way dangerous if conducted in a safe and controlled environment, then click here to read it.
Many who think that youth athletes should not undertake strength and conditioning training are also the same people that think that strength and conditioning is all about big lifting and heavy weight.
Regardless of age, and especially in youth strength and conditioning, this is, quite simply, not the case. Let’s take a closer look at why this is not the case…
Importance of Fundamental Movement Skills
Youth strength and conditioning is centred round key movement competencies. Fundamental movement skills are the building blocks for more advanced, ‘sport-specific’ movement patterns. No matter the length of time that a youth has undertaken formalised strength and conditioning, motor skill development should form a crucial part of their training programme .
For example, can a child stand on one leg with their eyes closed? Although on the face of it, being able to stand on one leg with your eyes closed may sound somewhat trivial, single leg stability forms a crucial aspect of any sport in which running is required – the better you are at controlling your bodyweight on one leg, the better you will be at absorbing force at speed (stabilising) on one leg thus meaning you can run faster as less time is spent with your foot on the ground absorbing these high forces (ground contact time).
Importance of Key Movement Qualities
Youth strength and conditioning should also introduce its athletes to the key movement qualities which form the foundation of strength and conditioning programmes of athletes at all ages, a few of which are:
- Hip hinge
- Upper body push
- Upper body pull
It is imperative that these movements are introduced at the appropriate pace; for example, simply instructing a child to perform a barbell back squat with no prior history of squatting is asking for trouble. Instead, following a structured progression (such as that outlined below), which uses the principle of progressive overload to continually challenge the athlete would be more appropriate.
Squat Pattern Progression:
Band Assisted Squat > Bodyweight Squat > Goblet Squat w. Dumbbell > Barbell Back Squat
Ingraining Proper Movement Patterns
When performing any of these progressions, and any resistance exercise, the repetition ranges for youth athletes should high (i.e. 10-12-15 reps). More repetitions allow key movements to be learnt more quickly. However, it is crucial that a coach is observing these movements as we want the right movement patterns to be ingrained. There is the danger that poor movement patterns may be ingrained if a coach is not there ensuring the correct technique is being performed.
Keeping it Fun
Whilst fundamental movement skills and key movement qualities need to form the bedrock of a youth S&C programme, it is crucial that the training environment is also fun and full of varied stimuli .
How might that look?
Well, once the athletes have completed their main movements in a session a different team game or challenge could be completed each week. Not only does this introduce an element of competitiveness it also challenges the individuals to work as part of a team, a crucial quality in any sport.
In conclusion, in part 2 of this 3 part series we have highlighted the need for youth strength and conditioning to be centred on fundamental movement skills and key movement qualities whilst at the same time incorporating fun and varied training stimuli in order to make the sessions engaging for the athletes week in week out. In the third part of this series we will take a closer look at why it is imperative that individualisation within a group setting occurs for youth athletes and how this might be implemented.
 ] R. Lloyd and J. Oliver, ‘Developing Younger Athletes’, in D. Joyce & D. Lewindon (eds.) High-Performance Training for Sports (Human Kinetics, 2014), pp. 15-28.