Today’s youth athletes are at a great time in this world. They have everything they need to succeed. However, youth athletes are still lacking strength and are deficient in certain movement patterns. How can this be, given so much opportunity? It’s not uncommon for a parent to come up to me, at one of my child’s sporting events, saying that his/her child really needs to come to see me and work on strength, or that their child needs to work on speed.
There are a few reasons which may have caused this lack of basic body strength and coordination. In days past youth have been outside for hours, playing on the school playground (which has been removed for safety precautions), playing road hockey/street basketball (which kids no longer do because of more enticing video games), or just playing outside with friends (which is not done much anymore without supervision). So, despite all those reasons, there are ways to get stronger and faster, but two main factors are holding people back:
Skill Training vs Strength/Performance Training
All athletes need skill training for their sport if they intend to get better. Skill training is key for any sport, and it seems as if skill coaches are all over! Here in Canada, hockey is at the forefront. You can walk into any arena, here in Ontario, and see tons of advertisements and posters for skill coaches that will work on your skating edge work, skating stride, stick handling, shooting, etc. But, how many posters will you see up about strength training and performance training?
While skill training is very important, strength and performance training is just as important. There are a ton of befits of strength and performance training:
- Injury reduction
- Getting into the right positions
- Escaping out of bad situations
- More strength can produce more speed
- Greater strength combined with greater speed can equal more power
- General body awareness
Time and Money
Many of the benefits of strength and performance training are listed above, but how are you going to fit it into your schedule and afford the extra cost? The first is scheduling it. It is very hard to schedule in strength training when the week is filled with games, practices, and skill training. This is when the priorities come into play. Skill coaches have actually approached me and said that this certain player needs to get stronger and asked me which programs I have running. It’s not one or the other, in regard to skill training and strength training. You need them both. If you had to pick one, just ask yourself what you need more. If you have a lot of practices and games, don’t you think it might be time to fit in some strength training?
Money is also a big factor for many. Sports are not cheap. It seems as though everything costs money. You pay for the registration for the sport and also pay for the extra skill training. Strength training is not really any different. You usually need to pay for a gym membership or pay for enrollment in a youth strength training group. But paying for strength training doesn’t always have to cost a lot of money if you know where to look.
I did an article during the pandemic on exercises athletes can do at home to stay physically active. These next few movements fall along that category and can be done at home. So if you, your child, or someone you know can benefit from knowing and applying these few exercises, then you should definitely show them. They are simple exercises but are often done wrong, or young athletes don’t have the strength or body awareness to do them…and they are exercises ALL athletes should be able to perform. This can also be part of a movement screen for a strength coach, with other added movements.
Basic Movements All Athletes Should Know
Athletic Stance/Hip Hinge
This is a standard position for many athletes and for many athletic movements. There are multiple exercises that use this position and you get into that position in almost every sport. Hockey, football, tennis, baseball, and the list keeps going. Properly perform it by having your feet about shoulder width apart (this may be slightly wider or narrower depending on the sport and what the position is being used for). Keep your back straight and chest up. Notice I didn’t say to keep your back vertical. You will need to lean slightly forward and drive your hips backward. Your hand position will also depend on the sport or exercise, as will the amount of bend in your knees.
When I start to teach this movement I see done wrong in every which way, from young kids to older athletes. To start this exercise, both feet are facing forward, about 12-14 inches apart, depending on the height of the athlete. The feet split the frontal plane, with the weight of the body over the forward foot. The back foot always has the heel off the ground. Doing this ensures too much of the weight isn’t transferred to the rear leg in the upright position. Then move up and down in a controlled manner. When you are in the down position, the opposite arm of the forward leg, also moves forward. Doing this helps engage the upper body and core.
The bilateral squat is also just simply a squat. To perform this one, I start by placing the athlete’s hands and arms in front of their chest in a vertical position. Feet are spread about shoulder-width apart (the toes can slightly turn outwards). Have the athlete lower as far as they are able (ideally without a posterior tilt of the pelvis, or butt-wink). As a movement screen, you may want to have the hand on the hips or arms straight out. Having them on the inside of the knees helps to avoid any knee valgus, or caving in of the knees. But seeing knee valgus may help the strength coach determine other exercises that will help out that problem.
This is good for upper body and core strength. If the athlete can do a proper push-up CORRECTLY, he/she will be off to a good start athletically. Start by placing the hands directly below the shoulders, or slightly wider. Have the elbows pointed at a 45-degree angle. Lower and raise the body in a controlled manner, in one motion. A lot of young athletes and female athletes have trouble doing push-ups from the floor (reasoning is something for another article). To keep the kinetic chain intact from head to feet, I often do elevated push-ups, with hands elevated to a level so the push-up is achievable. Just be sure to keep a straight line from your head to your feet. For the strength coach using this as a screen, he/she might see a sagging torso or raised hips, which is core instability and lack of strength in the upper body.