For parents of some young athletes (for the scope of this article I’m talking about athletes ages 13-16), lifting heavy weights seems to get a bad rap. Years ago players were told not to lift weights because it would make them too “big”. You could even hear words like “stiff” or “tight” getting thrown around at the drop of a hat.
While I whole heartedly believe in the phrase that “age is wisdom”, this would be one of those times that I beg to differ. Being strong is a good thing. And if you want to be explosive you have to be strong first. Performance, speed (have I got your attention now?) and injury prevention all are built on a foundation of strength. But exactly what type of strength training and at what age seems to be where parents (and strength and conditioning coaches for that matter) get tripped up.
Most of you who read my blogs know that I spend a great deal of time emphasizing training according to where the athlete is during the season. Let’s take a look…
This continuum pertains primarily to our 17+ athletes. When dealing with these more physically mature athletes, and athletes with a higher training age, we move further and further to the right of the above chart as the season gets closer. But when it comes to strength training our younger athletes ages 13-16, all this goes out the window. Young athletes that have not been exposed to strength training for more than 2-3 years need one thing and one thing only… maximum strength!!
For those of you who are not familiar with the above chart, maximum strength lives all the way to the left and is the foundation that all other types of strength are built upon. A great analogy are the old pyramids. The foundation needs to be strong at the bottom so that we can improve other attributes up top. Basically, lack of a good foundation can be a young athlete’s most significant limiting factor.
Trying to make an athlete faster with speed and agility drills without a base of strength is like building an upside down pyramid. This is not only silly, but honestly take a look below. Does this look stable to you?
By first training “absolute strength” we are:
- Adding lean muscle mass needed to be powerful
- Emphasizing good movement patterns specific to the sport, such as hip hinging (deadlift), split squats (deceleration) and mid- and lower-trap strength (scapular stability) through rowing movements
- Promoting joint stability at an age where it’s at its infantile stages due to growth spurts and poor core control
- Helping to avoid injury by developing the tensile strength to be able to help absorb the high amounts of stress to the body created by the torque from various athletic movements
Granted, many sports are explosive in nature and while first-step quickness is paramount, it must be trained appropriately. With our more advanced athletes, we emphasize force production with various methods such as the use of VBT (velocity based training).
But these are “time sensitive” methods based on a strong foundation of strength and only performed at very specific times of the year. Young athletes need to get strong. PERIOD. They do not possess an adequate amount of strength to put enough force into the ground to be explosive in the first place. The good news is that at the younger ages we will see an increase in explosiveness by simply working on lower repetition strength training, most of the year. Only once a great base of strength is achieved do we start working on putting it into the ground. Anything less is like shooting a cannon from a canoe. We would be better served training maximal strength to help get us out of low positions quickly.
Enter the deadlift, the king of all things strong, and an excellent way to build foundational strength.
In closing, as the athlete grows and develops, we should start to introduce more advanced protocols but only after a good base of strength is attained. This will ensure that we get more out of these more advanced exercises as the athlete is more “ready” to perform them from a strength and mobility standpoint. It’s always important to remember that our work in the weight room is designed to help our athletes improve their performance on the field.
See ya’ in the gym…
By Nunzio Signore (BA, CSCS, CPT, NASM, FMS)