Strength Training for the Young Athlete, Part 2

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  • 7/27/2019 Strength Training for the Young Athlete, Part 2


    Strength Training for the Young Athlete, Part 2

    Last month I discussed the rationale behind allowing young athletes to participate in strength training. I mentioned that three days a week is sufficient and that youngsters should work all the major muscle groups at every session. They should not do split routines. Such programs do have a place in bodybuilding training and are also beneficial for some advanced strength athletes, but they should not be used by beginners-any beginers.

    This month i want to talk about specific exercises and outline a sample beginning program for youngsters based on the big three. These are three exercises thatwork the major muscle groups-the shoulder girdle, back and legs-completely. Theexercises should be full-range movements that involve many joints and muscles, along with their tendons and ligaments.

    The big three, as originally conceiveby Tommy Suggs and myself, consisted of theflat-bench press, the squat and the power clean. We included the flat bench because at that time there were very few incline benches available in the country.Flat benches on the other hand, were found almost everywhere. At one high schoolin Hawaii the athletes did their flat-benchpresses on the long benche in the locker room.

    Since there are now plenty of incline benches available, however, I suggest using incline presses rather than flat benches as the basic shoullder girdle exercis

    e. I prefer inclines for beginners because they work the shoulders and high portion of the chest, while flat-bench presses hit the pecs more directly. The shoulders are used in every athletic endeavor; the pecs are not.

    The current mania for benchh pressing has brought a lot of problems, such as stretch marks on the shoulders and a great many injuries due to athletes overworking the exercise. More youngsters are injured on bench presses than on any other weight-training movement. While the injuries are mostly caused by faulty form, even the kids who have good form often experience problems beecause they bench toomuch. Youngsters are frequently encouraged to rebound the bar off their chestsand to bridge in order to post a high number, for in many school weight programsthe bench press is the only exercise tested.

    Then there's the long-range factor of adding too much mass to the pecs at an early age. To many this may seem desirable, but trust me, it isn't. Once the pecs become overly developed, it takes a huge amount of work to maintain them-and pecsthat aren't maintained don't just go away, as many other muscles do. Instead, they sag. Nothing detracts from a physique more than drooping pecs.

    It's much more difficult to cheat on the incline than it is to cheat on the flatbench. That alone makes it a better exercise for beginners. The incline works the upper portion of the pecs, but that's good, as the area helps stabilize the entire shoulder girdle and also enhances overall appearance. Beginners quickly learn how to rebound the bar off their chests and to bridge on the flat bench, butthose faulty techniques actually hurt their performance on inclines. Performance on the incline only improves when form is precise, which makes it the perfect

    shoulder girdle exercise for any beginnner.

    As for the back, power cleans are still the very best single exercise for beginners to use to work all the musscles in that area. Some coaches are reluctant toteach their athletes the power clean, but that's usually because they don't knowhow to teach it correctly. It fits perfectly into a program for young athletesbecause it not only builds proportionate back strength, but it also improves coordination, timing and speed.

    In order for small youngsters to be able to do power cleans with an Olympic bar,

  • 7/27/2019 Strength Training for the Young Athlete, Part 2


    they must have some small plates available. I've taught the movement by using five- or 10-pound plates and elevating the bar so the youngsters don't have to pull it off the floor, but that's rather awkward. I recommend investing in five-pound Olympic-sized plates. That way you can make two stacks of plates to rest thebar on, and it can sit in the same starting position as it would if there were45- pound plates on it. That helps a great deal, for lifters can then asssume the correct starting position and everyone starts with 55 pounds.

    The single best hip and leg exercise is the full squat. There's no legitimate reason that youngsters shouldn't do this exercise, unless they have an innjury. Aswith any other movement, form is essential, but full squats are certainly lessharmful than being tackled in football or even getting hit in soccer. I went through all the rigmarole on full squats vs. partial squats last month. Suffice itto say, I believe that full squats are perfectly safe if youngsters do them properly.

    Those three movements, then, are the basics, and they're performed three times aweek. I generally advoocate using the heavy, light and mediium principle for most strength routines, but it's not necessary for youngsters to jump right in with that system. They're better off staying with the same poundages for several months to make sure they perfect their form on each lift. Once kids esstablish a foundation of strength, they can proceed just as any beginner would, altering theexercises to focus on weaker areas, increasing workload and introducing the heavy, light and medium concept.

    When in doubt, stay with the basics. There's no hurry, and the big three will produce ideal gains for youngsters.

    After the kids complete the core exercises, they can include auxiliary movementsto provide additional work for the smaller groups. The best exercises in this category are those that don't involve weights, specifically, chins, dips, pushupsand climbing rope. It's important for coaches and parents not to allow youngsters to go curl crazy. While it may seem harmmless, it's not. Too many kids overwork their elbow joints, and all too often the youngsters are doing partial curls,as suggested by some bodybuilder in a magazine, in order to get more peak to their biceps. In the process they may shorten their range of motion, which is notat all desirable.

    Performance of the Three Core Exercises

    Incline bench press. The first step is to find the proper grip. There's a funndamental rule for all forms of pressing that the elbows should always remain directly under the wrists. That's true for overhead presses, bench presses and inclines. If the grip is too wide, you give away power, and the same applies if the grip is too narrow. Also, make sure the lifter's thumbs are around the bar-no false gripping. Spotters must stay alert, for accidents often occur when the athletes throw the bar back into the rack so forcefully that it rebounds out.

    The incline is performed differently from the flat-bench press. In the flat bench the bar actually arcs backward after it leaves the chest, but during the incli

    ne it moves upward in a very straight line. The elbows assume a diffferent position as well. They always stay down, directly under the bar. In the flat bench the bar should touch the chest right where the breastbone ends, but in the inclineit hits much higher, right where the breastbone and collarbones meet.

    The lifter's first movement of the bar off the chest should be to try and driveit close to his chin. When the weight gets heavy or the lifter grows more tired,the bar will want to run forward. That's why a tight groove is so essential. Any attempt to rebound the bar off the chest or to bridge only hurts performance.

  • 7/27/2019 Strength Training for the Young Athlete, Part 2


    In the event that there's no incline bench available, substitute flat-bench presses and stress form even more than you normally would. That means no reboundingoff the chest and no bridging. I encourage youngsters to pause briefly with thebar on their chest. If they learn to do that from the very start, they'll neverhave problems when the weights get heavy. If they have difficulty avoiding rebounding or bridging, have them put their feet up on the bench.

    Power clean. Instruction on this lift starts with the foot position. Have the lifter step close to the bar so his shins are touching it, with his feet shoulderwidth apart or a bit closer. I teach my lifters to shut their eyes and imagine that they're about to do a standing broad jump. That fixes their feet in the ideal position. As for the hand posiition, have them grip just outside their legs.

    The next step is to have the lifter flatten his back and look up. Maintaining that flat-back position, he pulls the bar off the floor, keeping it very close tohis body through the exxercise. It should brush the shins and stay close to theknees, and then the lifter must drive forward with his hips so the bar comes close to his belt and chest.

    The most difficult part of the power clean is the finish. Pulling a weighted object that high is something we selldom do in life. The elbows may come up in a dynamic fashion. The front deltoids should be slightly in front of the ascending bar. Once the bar is pulled high enough, the lifter slips his elbows under it andallows it to rack across his shoulders-not across his upper chest.

    The lifter lowers the bar in reverse order, keeping it close to his body and hisback flat. It's best to have beginnners bring the bar down to their waist and pause there momentarily before lowering it to the floor. If the bar is alllowed to crash downward, there's a tendency for the back to rounddsomething you shouldhelp them avoid. Improperly lowering the bar can cause as much trouble as incorrrectly lifting it.

    The lifter should reset before doing each rep on this exercise. In other words,don't let him rebound the bar off the floor. This habit causes a lifter to alterhis starting position, and even if it's only a slight alteration, it will havenegative consequences once the weights get heavier.

    Full squat. For most beginners the most bothersome part of doing squats is dealing with the pressure of the bar on their backs. That's particularly true for youngsters, since they haven't yet developed much muscle in their traps. never resort to using a pad or towel, however. When the weights do get heavier, the padding will be more troublesome than it is helpful. It's bettter for them to learn how to deal with the problem from the beginning. The bar becomes painful because young lifters try to pull away from it, and that only makes matters worse. The proper approach is to lift the traps upward into the bar, which provides some cushion.

    Here's how to instruct youngsters in the movement. Step out of the rack with thebar locked firmly on the back. Grip it tightly, for any movement on the back causes difficulty. The proper foot stance will vary among individuuals. Taller kid

    s can often benefit from a slightly wider-than-shoulders stance, but the standard stance for most is to set their feet at shoulder width with the toes turned out just a bit-not too much, however, as that puts stress on the knees.

    Look straight ahead or very slightly upward, but don't exaggerate the head position. The head should float on top of the spine and not be fixed rigidly pointingeither upward or downward during the movement. Before starting down with the bar, lock all the muscle of the body, starting with the ankles, moving to the knees, then the lower and upper back.

  • 7/27/2019 Strength Training for the Young Athlete, Part 2


    Lower the body until the thighs go below parallel to the floor. To get the full-range movement, youngsters only have to break parallel slightly in order to involve those all-important adducctors, leg biceps and hip muscles.

    Once the young athlete gets into the lower position, the next step is to drive upward forcefully. Have him reset for every rep and never hurry through the set.The goal is to perform each rep perfectly.

    Here are some things to avoid when youngsters are squatting. Never allow their backs to round excessively. In some individuals there's going to be a certain amount of rounding, but if it becomes extreme, they should lower the weight and reestablish form. They should never rebound off the bottom. This is potentially harmful not only to the knees but to the lower back and hips as well. It's also a bad habit that will adversely influence performance once the weights get heavy.

    Sets and Reps

    There's a precept in weight training that youngsters should always do high repson all exercises. I agree with that idea but not universally. In many innstanceslower reps are better because, when youngsters try to do high reps, they becomefatigued and their form breaks down. It's better for them to do a few more setsof lower reps. I don't believe youngsters who are just gettting started in strength training should ever bother with singles, douubles or triples, but I have no problem at all with them doing fives.

    As a general rule, however, eights or 10s are good for beginners, and three to four sets are enough. That fits the squat and incline well, but for the power clean, which is a high-skill movement, lower reps should be the order of the day from the onset. Four to five sets are sufficient.

    Here again, I must point out the importance of supervision. If the coach sees that youngsters are breaking form on the eighth or ninth rep,then the weight mustbe reduced or the reps lowered. The kids can always achieve the necessary workload with a couple of extra sets.

    Auxiliary exercises always call for high reps in this program-12s, 15s and 20s.Two to four sets are plenty, as that satisfies the 40-rep rule. For exerrcises t

    hat only utilize bodyweight, it's often restrictive to limit the reps, so on chins, pullups and dips have them do four sets and try to increase the total numberof reps consistently. The kids can work calves in even higher reps-say, 30s-asthe calf muscles must be abused to stimulate growth.

    Take care in selecting auxiliary exxercises. Avoid any movements that enntail arapid flexion of the elbows or go behind the neck. Avoid trying to overdevelop the pecs with such silly exercises as declines and flyes.

    The importance of stretching should be obvious. I find that one of the best methods of incorporating stretching into the routine is to do some between sets. That's wasted time anyway, and the stretching will benefit the workout in progress.Have the youngsters do more after the sesssion, even if it's later in the eveni

    ng. Then have them do some on their off days. The two areas that need special attention are the leg biceps and the shoulders. The hurdler stretch is useeful forthe leg biceps, and have the kids use a broomstick or a towel to stretch out their shoulders.

    Once the youngsters are using perfect form and have established a solid strengthbase, they can proceed to an intermediate program just as any other beginners would.

    A complete sample program for youngsters appears below

  • 7/27/2019 Strength Training for the Young...


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