Young ath­letes’ strength


Athletics Weekly - - Contents -

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

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