Youth and teen athletes/general fitness clients are far different than adults and as a result need to be trained differently and many times more conservatively than older athletes and clients. I have had the luxury of interning with one of the top HS strength coaches in the country in Carlo Alvarez and his staff. I learned a lot about training younger athletes and high school athletes in a team setting but here are a few more specific things that I have found working one on one with a variety of youth clients ranging from 12-18 yrs old.
In general, young trainees tend to need help with:
There is a general lack of stability with a lot of my younger clients. This is a picture of one of my clients; he is a 13 yr old lacrosse player. When we first started this was what a push-up looked like:
As you can see in the first picture he is about as stable as the last move in Jenga. We worked on a lot of push up holds, plank variations and loaded carries. Within about 3 weeks of training and dominating farmer’s walks and suitcase carries his push-ups looked like this:
(Editors note: Sorry for the quality/angles of the photos. I am no Anne Geddes.)
A lot of the youths struggle to activate their glutes during glute bridges. In order to increase activation, have them do glute bridges with a band around their knees, creating some tension and forcing them to actively pull the band apart. This increases their glute activation and makes the exercise more effective.
In order to further glute development and make bulletproof hamstrings, I progress them on the glute-ham from their first week with me. We begin with low back extensions and then progress up to the glute ham raise. To enhance glute strength and stability, I begin their workouts with 2 sets of low back extensions on the glute ham with a concentrated hold at the top of the movement. This has helped them learn to activate and utilize their glutes much more effectively.
The increased glute activation and glute med strength helps with the knee stabilization. As the glute and glute med strength improves their knees will begin to track much better.
The primary lower body exercises I begin with youth clients are goblet squats, split squats and SL eccentric squats to a box. The goblet squat really ingrains the their squat technique while the split squats develop a lot more lower body stability. These are the primary beginning exercises and all of my trainees have progressed at varying rates.
Utilize tempo variations with the lifts on occasion. At their age and training ability, tempo use will help but isn’t completely necessary to use yet, as all of these moves will give them enough of a stimulus to correct issues and progress to more lifts first. As they advance in their abilities and competency tempos should be used to a greater extent for added variation, strength development and efficacy.
Kids run and jump all the time but they also tend to land pretty stiff when they are using them in training. There isn’t a need to have younger trainees doing massive amounts of plyometrics. Their power and strength is going to be developing plenty with proper programming, sports performance and strength increases. As long as you allow some exercises to be performed explosively their power will continue to develop at this stage.
Instead of crushing the kids with plyometrics every workout, have them focus on landings first. These landings from vertical jumps, jumping to a box and bounding will still overload significantly but teaching them how to land properly early and often will help protect them for a long time. Teach them to land like “ninjas” so they hit the ground or box softly and safely. While these jumps are plyometrics, these exercises are low-level plyometrics and aren’t used in a high volume with my youth clients. Using just 2-4 sets of a 2-5 reps, each workout, will be good to help them learn the mechanics of jumping and more importantly landing.
Focusing on the basics is vital with young trainees. Build up a strong foundation of stability and strength using basic exercises. Make them great at the basics before you advance them. Their bodies, performance and future will thank you greatly.