Training Young Athletes – Avoiding Injury and Burnout.

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Question: My daughter is a middle school volleyball player and wants to get stronger before the season begins. Is she too young to begin weight training while she is in middle school or should she wait until she is in high school?
Answer: How early to begin building strength and athletic skills is a common question and one that is clouded with misconceptions. We have male and female clients as young as 11 or 12 years old with whom we begin teaching weight training and basic motor skills but we develop baseline strength first. Early routines begin with primary exercises that build strength by using multiple muscle groups moving together as one like bench presses, squats, deadlifts, cleans and shoulder presses. Additionally, we include exercises for specific muscle groups which include barbell curls for biceps, triceps pressdowns and abdominal exercises. Keep the number of repetitions between 10 and 15 reps per set which will not only increase muscular strength but also to improve the nervous system motor skill patterns which is more important than trying to lift heavy weights. By teaching a young athlete how to perform a movement using lighter weights and repeating the exercises, you can prepare them more effectively for increasingly heavier weights as they mature. Keep the training sessions fun and challenging by regularly incorporating different exercises.
As baseline strength improves during the first few weeks, then begin additional motor skills training to increase athletic ability through plyometric exercises, drills to improve vertical leaping by jumping explosively, quickness and reaction time drills and lateral, forward and backwards movement drills. As the athlete matures in late middle school or early high school begin working with heavier weights and decreasing the number of reps down to as few as 5 to 6 reps on each compound primary exercise one day a week. Two or three days of weight training each week is sufficient to improve an athlete without causing the athlete to burnout from overtraining. Remember that these athletes are still kids and need down time. Too many kids these days are approaching real burnout by the time they finish high school and could have avoided that by including days off in their training routines.
As these athletes train include nutritional information in the regimen because too many kids seem to think that Pop tarts for breakfast, pizza and fries for lunch capped off with a burger for dinner is a good eating plan. Finally, get these kids to bed earlier and avoid “energy” drinks. These drinks have no place at the training table especially for young people. First, build baseline strength with young athletes followed by basic movement skills, then explosive skills. With maturing athletes include exercises to improve sport specific skills.
God bless and keep training,
Daryl

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