The glutes and hamstrings are the powerhouses of athletic performance. Developing these muscles will not only make you more explosive but will also play a role in injury prevention.
However, youth athletes of today spend more time competing than training. Travel teams, elite clubs, high school and Olympic development programs result in repetitive competition stress on young bodies. Regardless of your sport, a heavy focus on glute and hamstring exercises in tandem with athletic seasons will promote longevity, development and performance.
Since youth athletes are not only adapting to training but also evolving into adults, certain techniques and tactics should be applied at different stages of maturation. For long-term athlete development, consider the Peak Height Velocity of the trainee when looking at a training program.
PHV is the age at which deceleration of growth starts in young people. Certain training focuses, such as flexibility and skill, are better suited toward the youngest athletes, starting as early as age 5. Boys typically reach PHV (around age 14) a bit later than girls (around age 12). Serious weight training is most effective after this age, but that doesn’t mean certain strength training exercises should be a staple of all youth training programs.
Each exercise listed below can be used as a flexibility/skill tool or loaded for strength training. Below are the top posterior chain exercises for youth athletes, ordered from novice to advanced.
Starting with an isometric hold can teach your athletes to create proper joint angles and shift their focus to the glutes. By switching on the glutes, this exercise acts not only as a primer for any jumping, but also strengthens an often dormant muscle in young athletes. Once the athlete is comfortable keeping their heels on the ground with a neutral pelvic tilt and spine, add a band around the knees. This reinforces proper knee-to-hip positioning in a low body position. Training this movement pattern statically can lead to greater stability in the hip and knee when cutting, running or jumping.
Glute Bridge Marches
Progress from a double-leg isometric activation to a single-leg pattern. Keeping one leg stationary as the other lifts off the floor trains anti-rotational stability and prevents pelvic shift. There may be some debate on what constitutes “core stability,” but most sports require athletes to produce force and motion while on one leg. Therefore, when looking at “the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk over the pelvis and leg to allow optimum production, transfer and control of force and motion,” Glute Bridge Marches are an appropriate strength training tool.
Practice trains the sport-specific dynamic patterns. The strength coach can use the warm-up or gym time to prevent injury. Glute Bridge Marches teach the core, glutes and hamstrings of one leg to stay engaged while the opposite quad and psoas flex. The body remembers this, strengthens appropriately, and transfers it to activities on the field.
Single-Leg Hip Thrust on Bench
Full range of hip extension beginning from a flexed position adds extra resistance to glute and hamstring training. Control should be emphasized on the descent at well, as both concentric and eccentric training will apply. Bret Contreras’s research on the hip thrust shows that training horizontal hip extension results in greater linear speed. However, heavy resistance and barbell hamstring exercises are often too much for novice athletes. Shifting weight to one side creates a progression without adding resistance. Single-leg training also helps identify and eliminate weaknesses on one side.
Ensure the athlete’s’ hips are kept level throughout the exercise and watch the tracking of the knee. Elevating the toe off the floor can help teach hip drive. If your athletes are having trouble extending the hips all the way through or keeping the core steady, regress to marches. Keep the shoulders on the bench while continuing with the glute bridge marches from earlier.
Lift the leg, plant the heel, drive off, balance on one foot and pull your trail leg through. Sound like a sprint? Good, because it is. It’s also a Bodyweight Step-Up.
Step-Ups force you to generate force through the posterior chain at a greater angle. Creating a higher stability challenge, coaches can progress from hip thrusts to dynamic hip extension while standing. They’re also easier to load with dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, etc. Start with Bodyweight Step-Ups first. Progress to different loaded positions in new strength cycles. Having a strength foundation in triple extension is critical before moving to any plyometric or ballistic movements. That doesn’t mean your kid can’t carry on running and jumping, but as they age, the repetitive short-range movements create higher risk for injury.
Teaching the hip hinge while standing is one of the simplest hamstring exercises to learn to triple extension. Jumping and landing techniques tend to be a bit off as athletes learn how to move. With banded pull throughs, the coach can help athletes learn how to recruit their posterior chain to generate force while upright. Make sure the upper back stays engaged and the athlete actively drives the hips back.
While the resistance band can help control, it also runs the risk of rounding out the back as it pulls. But this can be beneficial if done correctly. Using the posterior chain to eccentrically maintain positioning increases strength and durability. On hip extension, emphasize the glute squeeze and full, explosive lock out. This pattern sets a neural pathway for further triple extension in broad jumps, kettlebell swings and more.
Of the key facets of athleticism, stability has to be trained just as much as strength. According to a study of soccer players “dynamic balance and strength, stretching, body awareness and decision-making, and targeted core and trunk control appear to be successful training components to reduce non-contact ACL injury risk factors.” Lunges through multiple planes change the base of support, affecting body control and targeting trunk stability. By doing lateral and reverse lunges specifically, the focus shifts towards the glutes to act not only as prime movers but also as stabilizers. Curtsy lunges, 45* lunges and even your regular forward lunge create unique dynamic balance challenges at the knee, hip and ankle. Different levels of torque at new joint angles begin to be trained in a safe environment. From there, athletes can become more explosive in all directions.Train at bodyweight or even assisted first, until the athlete has enough coordination and balance to execute lunges with proper movement patterns. Greater loads can be added through eccentric or isometric holds, weights and bands.
Probably one of the more challenging hamstring exercises to learn because it requires such good balance. However, if you’ve progressed your athletes through the above, they should be accustomed to both standing on one leg and hinging at the hips.The key to a single leg RDL is kicking the non-weight bearing leg back without rotation. Often, young athletes compensate for their weak hip stabilization by counterbalancing through rotation. While this keeps them from falling over, it’s not helping them become better. Assist the athlete in to proper position if needed. At the bottom, they should be forming a “T” with the ground, torso straight and leg outstretched behind. A lot of emphasis comes on the descent or eccentric portion. Crucially so, for eccentric hamstring strength plays an important role in the prevention of hamstring and injury(3). Yet equally as important is the gluteal squeeze that drives the hips forward and shoots the torso upright. Don’t just let the back leg fall and use your back to stand. Remind your athletes to drive their heels into the ground to stand up, just as they did in the pull throughs.
1) Cole, J., CSCS, RSCC. (n.d.). “Short- and Long-Term Periodization Models for Performance Training.” Retrieved July 05, 2017, from https://www.nsca.com/webinars/2011COLE/
2) Contreras, B., Ph. D, CSCS. (2016, August 9). “Squat Vs. Hip Thrust Vs. Deadlift Study Predictions.” Retrieved from https://bretcontreras.com/squat-vs-hip-thrust-vs-deadlift-study-predictions/
3) “ECCENTRICS AND PREVENTION OF HAMSTRING INJURY IN SPORT.” (n.d.). Retrieved July 05, 2017, from https://www.nsca.com/Education/Articles/Hot-Topic-Eccentrics-and-Prevention-of-Hamstring-Injury-in-Sport/
4) Alentorn-Geli, E., Myer, G.D., Silvers, H.J. et al. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc (2009) 17: 859. doi:10.1007/s00167-009-0823-z
5) Kibler, W. B., Press, J., & Sciascia, A. (2006). “The Role of Core Stability in Athletic Function.” Sports Medicine, 36(3), 189-198. doi:10.2165/00007256-200636030-00001