Young athletes’ strength
HOW BEST CAN COACHES IMPLEMENT A STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING PROGRAMME FOR YOUNG ATHLETES? PETA BEE REPORTS
CHILDREN are taking up athletics on a back foot as far as strength is concerned. Even at ages 9 to 11, when many turn up at a club for the first time, they lack the general conditioning seen in those of the same age two decades ago. It’s an observation made by many coaches and soundly backed by research.
Daniel Cohen, a senior lecturer in sports science at London Metropolitan University, has found that in the last decade the number of sit-ups 10-year-old children can do has dropped by nearly a third, while children’s arm strength has fallen by about a quarter.
But what steps can coaches take to improve conditioning in young athletes?
Wait for weights
Any coach who spotted the pictures posted on social media of 12-year-old Cruz Beckham bench-pressing what looked like a considerable weight last week may have despaired, but it’s not unusual.
Mike Antoniades, a speed and strength training coach who is co-author of ‘Youth Fitness Drills’ (A&C Black; £14.99) says it’s something he sees on a regular basis. “We’ve seen a number of parents and coaches try to mimic what adults do by including strength sessions with weightsfor children, that will supposedly give them that competitive edge,” Antoniades says.
“There is a simple golden rule when it comes to developing strength for children under the age of 16: all exercises should be carried out against body weight and through running, throwing and jumping movements.” What of the published studies that advocate moderate weight training for adolescents? “I believe weights are unnecessary for the 12-16 year olds,” Antoniades says. “Drills and other exercises can develop strength effectively.”
Build up gradually
Liz McColgan says strength can be gained gradually in a variety of ways from a young age. “A child’s structure should always be strengthened as they prepare to be distance runners, body weight, circuits and core strength,” she explains.
“Cross country running is a good all-round winter fitness base. Many kids don’t train enough on hills and grass yet it develops leg strength.”
McColgan adds that “plyometric work along with some dynamic and body conditioning work” can usually be added around the ages of 16 to 18, depending on an athlete’s physical development.
Make it child’s play
Introducing basic bodyweight exercises is a great way to build all-round strength in the 12-16 age group.
It’s an approach the legendary coach Frank Horwill, founder of the British Milers’ Club, advocated doing “every other day during the winter, once a week in summer” at all ages.
Horwill was a fan of adding piggy backs, crab walking (“walking in a crab like state”) and hops over 25m at the end of a session. With young athletes, the key is to make exercises varied and so much fun they don’t notice they are doing it.
Pretty much any activity goes, but here are some suggestions:
Wheelbarrows: Make sure your child partners someone of a similar height and weight if they are going to take turns, or support their legs yourself. At first, practice very short distances. To make a “wheelbarrow”, the child gets down on all fours with a partner standing behind ready to lift their legs by the ankles. Leapfrogs: Make sure partners are evenly matched in size.
Start by getting children to
‘leap’ over a partner who is crouched on the floor, head tucked in, by placing both hands on the middle of their back. As they get stronger, the partner should bend from the waist, keeping knees slightly flexed, head tucked in and hands on thighs as they are leapfrogged over.
Hopscotch: The basic hopscotch movement of hopping on one foot, using both feet in succession is a superb way to develop strength and co-ordination. Get them to try that first over a 10-15m distance before switching to ten forward hops in each direction. Bear crawls: Start on all fours and begin moving along the ground as quickly as they can. Add variations — move the arm and leg from the same side of the body at the same time, the opposite arm and foot or move sideways. Keep the hips straight and low and then change to a higher-level crawl. Piggy back squats: Pair youngsters by height and weight. On your command child A jumps onto the back of child B and B does 10 slow, half squats. On completion they change over.
Hopscotch: develops both strength and coordination