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The Whole Athlete Part Four: Strength Training

By Julie Shepherd

Today will be our final installment in our four-part series of the Whole Athlete. If you missed the previous posts you can find them here; Nutrition – part one, Sleep-part two, and Mindset, part three.

In our final post, we will discuss the importance of building strength in our teen athlete. We all know the importance of training your sport, working individual skills, and practicing with your team, but often times strength training is overlooked for the sake of more training on the ball or on the field, court, or pool.

When can you begin strength training? Strength training can start younger than you might think. At middle school age and even younger, kids can work on body awareness and control. This age group will mainly use their own bodyweight to learn how to move properly. During these years, kids are growing fast and their movement and body control can literally change day by day. Repetition is vital during these years.

As the kids enter puberty and have more control over their bodies, we can start to add some external load to the movements and some intensity. We still want to keep it simple, with movements like goblet squats, kettlebell deadlifts, pull-ups, and dumbbell rows. As their training age (time spent training) increases we can move into more advanced movements such as front squats, trap bar deadlifts, weighted pull-ups, and barbell rows.

One of the many benefits of strength training is reducing the risk of injury in our youth athletes. When athletes learn how to move properly, train how to jump and land (absorb force), and build their engines, they are less likely to get hurt on the field, court, etc. A player sitting on the bench recovering from injury doesn’t do the team any good and can put themselves at risk for recurring injuries.

Another benefit of strength training is becoming better at your sport. If you are stronger, you are faster. If you are more powerful, you can defend better. If you are more fit, you can last longer in the game. What athlete doesn’t want to get stronger and faster?

On a personal note, I have witnessed both of my daughters go through what I would call “many ups and downs” when it comes to strength training. I think it is hard to be parent and coach and over the years it may or may not have caused a few disagreements. Because this is my profession, all I ever wanted was for my kids to believe in what I believe and understand the importance of strength training. It was not easy in their younger years. Now that they are 14 and 17, they both are starting to put it together and see the benefits. Not only do they feel stronger in their sport, but also in how they feel. The confidence exudes in their smile after a training session. It makes them want to eat better, sleep more, and train more.

How long and how often do kids need to train? Of course, there is a pie in the sky answer to this question. If kids had the time, two days a week in their younger years and up to four days a week as they get older. Now, we all know kids are overscheduled with all their activities, school work, and their social life. Balance is important. When first starting out, it is important that kids are having fun while they are training. If they feel like it is a chore or something they don’t really want to do (re-read above paragraph) this can affect how they feel about training when they get older and even into their adult years. Start small, one day a week is great. Get them moving, teach them a few things each class and repeat. As they get older and can start to build muscle, two to four days a week would be great. Again, 1 ½ hours would be amazing, but if they can get in 30-40 minutes per session that is better than nothing at all.

If you learn one thing from this article, I would love it to be your understanding of how important and beneficial strength training is for your teen athlete. This four-part series is called The Whole Athlete, if they don’t have all the pieces in place then it is difficult for them to realize their full potential.

We have the perfect way for you teen athlete to begin or continue their strength training journey. We are starting our Equip spring session on Thursday, Feb. 28th, 2019 and it will run every Thursday until May 2nd. Classes will be one hour, 4:30-5:30. Here is the link to sign up, link.

The Whole Athlete (Four Part Series) Part One of Four: Nutrition

By Julie Shepherd

We talk a lot about the importance of building strength in our athletes.  The benefits are vast and include increasing speed, power, endurance, explosiveness, and reducing the risk of injuries.  But there are many aspects to building a strong athlete outside of just strength they do not get enough attention. Today we are going to start a four part series on building the whole athlete.  Our topics will include, nutrition, sleep, mindset, and strength. We will dive a little deeper into each of these topics and discuss the importance they all hold and how if one is “off” it can affect all.  Our focus today will be on the topic of nutrition.


As coaches, we know what an important role nutrition plays in how our athletes perform in training and games.  Not only do we need to think about what the athletes eat and drink before and after games, but also leading up to competition and training days. In today’s article we will tackle the topic of what to eat and when.  First, let’s go over the macronutrients and what role they play in athletic performance.


Proteins:  Responsible for building, maintenance, and recovery of the muscles.  


Carbohydrates: Provide energy for the body.


Fats:  Energy source for longer duration activity, assists in keeping hormones in balance, and helps regulate the level of inflammation in the body.


Eating a well balanced diet of carbohydrates, proteins,and fats is important for overall performance.  Eating whole foods and limiting the amount of processed and high sugar foods is always the best option.  Your athletes should try and eat a variety of foods to help ensure you get all your essential vitamins and minerals.  If you have an athlete that is a vegetarian they can get protein by eating beans, lentils, and nut butters, to name a few.  


Nutrition Before Trainings:


Athletes are busy with school and activities and I know it can be hard to get a snack in before training, but it is important.  If they go into practice hungry their risk of injury increases. Their muscles may not be supplied with enough energy and they can be distracted by their hunger.  There are many small snacks they can choose from such as a small sandwich with chicken or lunch meat, a piece of fruit with cheese, or a low sugar energy bar.


It is important that athletes allow enough time for digestion as 60-80% of your blood supply goes to the muscles in use during physical activity.  This decreases the available blood supply to your stomach that is needed for digestion. Without enough time alloted to digestion the athlete can feel uncomfortable during training experiencing cramps, or gassy feelings, which can distract  

Them. In addition to these uncomfortable feelings the athlete will not be able to access this fuel during physical activity.  Eating 30-60 minutes before training may allow enough time for proper digestion.


Game Day Nutrition:


What your athlete eats on game day will depend on the time of their first game.  If they have a mid-morning or early afternoon game, they can eat a full meal for breakfast and a small snack for lunch.  Some good options include:

-eggs, toast/bagel, with fresh fruit,

-yogurt and granola

-fruit smoothie

-sandwich with protein such as chicken or lunchmeat,

-pasta with protein and a salad.  

Steer them clear of high fat/greasy foods as these take longer to digest and can make them feel sluggish.  


Following a game, it is important for them to eat something within two hours.  Encourage your athletes to eat carbohydrates to refuel the muscles and protein for repair and growth.  If they will have a second game, make sure they eat a light meal no more than 60 minutes before the game.  


As coaches, we want to make sure athletes are properly fueled to be able to perform to their best ability, play to the final whistle, and reduce the risk of injury.  It is important for us to be a good example and practice what we preach. If we are snacking on sugary, heavy/greasy food, it will be hard for them to listen to our suggestion.  Show them how fueling your body with the highest quality whole foods will allow them to put their best foot forward when they step onto the court, field, etc.


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