Structuring Youth Fitness Programs Just a few decades ago, many people believed that women’s bodies were not as capable as men’s bodies at reaping the benefits of physical training for improved health and athletic performance. Fast-forward to today, and most personal trainers and coaches recognize that women stand to improve athletic abilities and health from focused exercise and training, as much, if not more so, than men. I suggest that a similar evolution of thought will soon be making its way through youth performance training, where it’s just a matter of time before parents and coaches will

Structuring Youth Fitness Programs

Just a few decades ago, many people believed that women’s bodies were not as capable as men’s bodies at reaping the benefits of physical training for improved health and athletic performance. Fast-forward to today, and most personal trainers and coaches recognize that women stand to improve athletic abilities and health from focused exercise and training, as much, if not more so, than men.

I suggest that a similar evolution of thought will soon be making its way through youth performance training, where it’s just a matter of time before parents and coaches will come to realize that kids can greatly improve their health and athletic performance through proper and early training. By focusing on the right exercises early, kids can improve athletic performance, build coordination, fight obesity, and gain a tremendous amount of confidence. Further, the earlier kids begin to build the proper technique and habits in physical training, the sooner they’ll be able to progress to more challenging and stimulating exercises in their training.

Below are two different lists: the first one is what parents and coaches should be doing more of with their youth performance training, and the second is what they should be doing less of.

The Do’s of Youth Fitness Training

Strength Training

youth strength trainingThe primary physical attribute that separates an older kid from a younger kid, aside from height and weight, is that older kids are stronger, and this accounts for much of the athletic superiority older kids have over younger kids. Thus, in order for our beginning athletes to get as much out of their abilities as possible, it is of paramount importance that they strength train. Most kids can start weight training as early as seven years old, and weight training is arguably the best means of getting kids ready for sports, improving motor performance,and reducing their chance of injury. When young athletes learn to strength train properly, not only do they improve the integrity of their muscles, connective tissues, nervous system, and cardiovascular system, they also learn how to efficiently move their body in space.

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Youth Strength Training: A Guide For Fitness Professionals From The American Council On Exercise
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Start with a focus on body weight exercises, and make sure kids master form before adding external resistance (weights). Weight vests, resistance tubes, and medicine balls are great for adding extra weight without changing the technique or dynamics too much. Strength endurance should be the initial focus, followed by phases of strength, then power. The following exercises (and their variations) are a great starting point. Consult a qualified strength coach or personal trainer if you’re not sure of the proper technique, sets, reps, and rest.

One and two legged squats
Deadlifts
Lunges
Olympic lifts
Chin-ups and Pull-ups
Inverted rows
Push-ups
Dips
Sit-ups
Planks
Further Reading:

Why Strength Training is Safe and Effective for Kids
Power, Speed, and Conditioning Training

youth Power, Speed, and Conditioning TrainingMost organized youth sports are speed and acceleration based (football, volleyball, basketball, baseball/softball, track & field sprints and jumps) where the majority of activities involve short bursts of movement followed by full or complete rest, with some having a bit more speed endurance focus (soccer, lacrosse). Therefore, youth speed training should mostly entail short sprints and change of direction drills of 100 meters or less, with emphasis on acceleration (less than 20 meters), speed (20- 60 meters), and speed endurance (60-100 meters).

Plyometrics, when done correctly, can greatly improve an athlete’s speed and power by helping them to produce large amounts of force in less time. Like with strength training, meet with a strength coach or personal trainer if you’re not sure of the proper technique, sets, reps, and rest. An important point for plyometric training, or “jump” training, is that the athlete is in a non-fatigued state where quality is greatly emphasized over quantity. Start with two footed jumps, progressively adding in one footed jumps. Be sure to keep training sessions short and sweet, no more than once or twice a week, with a 20-40 total jumps per session.

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