Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Top 12 Thoughts on Strength Training for Kids (part 1)

I was recently watching a group of kids struggling the other day and was trying to figure out why. Was the drill too tough? Were they too tired? Did I not coach it correctly? As I left that night, I came to the conclusion that there could have been any number of reasons, but the fact that they were all physically not as strong as they should be stuck out more than anything else.
In looking at our program design layout, you will notice that we always perform strength and power training after our movement skills. Effective and efficient movement of the body is priority number one. However, I am convinced that movement patterns, especially speed, will only be reinforced and improved through gaining strength. So, I am going to modify our training protocols to include more strength than we have before.
Here are some thoughts as to why strength training is so good for young kids:

1) Before the onset of puberty and during puberty, the Central Nervous System can be thought of as moldable, or plastic. It is still capable of being introduced to a stimulus, adapting and starting the process of changing relatively quickly. Older athletes and adults are capable of this also but not at the level of young children. These tools will form the foundation for which further changes can occur.

2) We can move a kid as we strengthen them. Typically, strength training is limited to the space of the equipment in use, but in our world of bands, sleds, climbing, crawling, etc, the movement patterns and the strength patterns happen simultaneously. An example would be a walking sled press instead of a bench press, or a sled march instead of a squat. That doesn't mean we will not use those exercises, but there are options beside the traditional means.

3) While it is a cliche, balance of the body is important for performance and injury prevention. Generally, balance will involve front/back, side/side and top/bottom; it will not always mean an equal ratio, however. For instance, our baseball players will always perform 2 to 3 posterior upper body movements for every anterior movement. Runners may perform more hip extension than hip flexion. Jiu Jitsu players and wrestlers may do core work on their backs more often than a football player. Once the body is looked at Generally, it can be broken down Specifically and Competitively based on the demands and needs of the sport.

4) Strength, more than any other motor skill, seems to have the greatest transfer to improvements in all other motor skills. As strength improves, acceleration, deceleration, jump height, jump distance, and speed typically improve. Couple that with proper teaching of the mechanics of movement, and the athlete is poised to be a dangerous weapon.

5) Similar to #4, as strength improves, force production and force absorption also improve. Sports, in the big picture, rely on producing and absorbing forces, either into the ground, an object, or a person. Take running for example: As an athlete accelerates, he/she must be able to apply enough force into the ground to create the desired speed over a desired distance. If they are not strong (enough), they will not get to where the want to go as fast as they should (this is a very simple overview). Conversely, if they need to decelerate and change direction, they must be able to control their bodyweight, absorb any forces needed and slow down momentum, and possibly re-accelerate.

6) Many times strength is measured by how much an athlete lifts in the weight room, and rightly so. If Athlete A squats 400 and Athlete B squats 300, Athlete A is stronger...or is he? In powerlifting, that is true. Weight room strength is a tool that must be able to transfer into sport. Much has been debated about how weightlifters and powerlifters can hang with sprinters for the first10-20 yards of a race based on their strength levels, but don't win the race. That is for another time, but strength for strength's sake is only as good as the degree of transfer. Athletes should see a positive correlation between improved strength and improved performance. Also of importance is the concept of relative strength. There are a few interpretations of relative strength:
* Strength relative to bodyweight;
* Strength relative to their maximum or absolute strength (expressed as %1RM);
* Strength relative to the forces found within a given sport (ground reaction forces, for example).
Athletes obviously need both relative strength and absolute strength to be successful.

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