Getting stronger and faster, and making the most of your athletic ability is not easy. It’s even more difficult when you have no idea where to start. The majority of young athletes I’ve had the privilege of working with are eager to start training. They see their idols on television stiff-arming an opponent on the football field, hitting a 450-foot home run on the baseball diamond, or holding off two defenders as they carve their way to the hoop on the basketball court.
Being inspired and having the willingness to start training is usually not the problem. It’s knowing how to start, and more importantly, knowing how to lay out a blueprint for long-term success that often trips up young athletes before they get on the path to success. With that in mind, here are six common mistakes I see from young athletes when starting a strength program.
They Don’t Start With an Assessment by a Qualified Professional
To get where you want to be, you must understand what you need. A qualified professional (such as a certified strength and conditioning specialist) can not only help a young athlete pin-point specific weaknesses such as a lack of hip external rotation, but will also give them a better understanding of why certain movements and exercises should be performed.
This is the first step in building a program that’s uniquely catered to your needs. If you’re a young athlete who lacks external rotation in the shoulder, then back squatting with a barbell may not be the best option for you. Inserting a safety bar might not only keep your shoulders healthier, but it can allow you to perform better and get stronger faster. If you’re not assessing and you’re just guessing at what exercises to perform, you are jeopardizing your athletic potential.
They Ignore Their Needs and Copy Another Athlete’s Program
This mistake plays off the previous point, but too many young athletes don’t fully understand their needs, so they just copy what another athlete does. They don’t understand that the athlete likely had success with that program because it’s what they needed, and it was built around their specific strengths, imbalances and weaknesses. There is no perfect program out there, but there are many programs that could be a disservice if given to the wrong athlete.
Failing to Instill a Foundation for Strength
If you’re a young athlete whose goal is to get stronger, faster and avoid injuries, building a foundation for strength is imperative. What does a good foundation for strength involve? Possessing the ability to squat well, perform a proper hip hinge, perform single-leg movements, push and pull your own body weight, etc. Every young athlete needs to be a great mover first and foremost.
Once a great foundation is built and functional movements have been done well, you can begin adding weight and opening up the program with more complicated lifts and movements.
Young athletes can often get competitive with their teammates and forgo learning these functional movements in a race to see who can lift the heaviest weight, which is a big mistake.
Going too Heavy too Early
Nothing will kill a program and zap the energy out of a training session like putting too much weight on the bar too early. Being unable to finish a rep or a set can be dangerous to the athlete’s well-being and bring down the mood of the session, not to mention result in terrible form and put them at greater risk of injury. Don’t ever underestimate the importance and value of finishing reps and performing them with quality.
Failing to Eat Enough to Meet Their Energy Demands
This is not complicated, but in my opinion, it’s something a lot of young athletes overthink. I get asked at least once a week what supplement I suggest, or what protein powder is best. If you are a young athlete who goes from school to practice to a private training session, you need to eat!
Eat high-quality foods and lots of them. When I deal with younger kids who have a hard time gaining weight, the first question I always ask is, “What did you have for breakfast?” The majority of the time I get an answer of nothing, or close to nothing. Then they go to school and eat a small lunch during what is usually a quick lunch period and head off to practice just a few hours later. Now the athlete has gone through the majority of the day with minimal caloric intake, and they face a two- to three-hour practice after school. This pattern is usually followed Monday-Friday.
Although supplements have their place, young athletes need to focus on actually eating quality food instead of searching for magic pills or powders. In my experience, most of the kids who think they eat a lot actually eat very little. Adolescent athletes need a ton of calories to adequately support their level of activity and growth, and living in a major calorie deficit can have disastrous effects on your training results.
Not Taking a True Offseason
It’s no secret: Overuse is the biggest reason for the majority of youth sports injuries. If you’re a baseball player and have followed guys like Mike Boyle, Eric Cressey and Dr. James Andrews, hopefully this is not the first time you’re hearing this piece of advice. But playing and training for the same sport all year round can actually be a detriment to your progress. It becomes very hard to correct imbalances accrued in your body if you never stop playing. If getting stronger is a way to prevent injuries, you need to set aside time to work on your strength and give certain sports-specific movements a chance to rest.
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