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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.

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