“What’s the point of working out in the summer for a winter or spring sport if they will just lose the conditioning by the time the season starts?” Some kids show up consistently for conditioning programs, yet year after year they look and perform the same and get the same or brand new injuries, what’s the point?
Conditioning is most often thrown around for our youth athletes referring to building endurance (running), lifting heavy, and putting on size (a.k.a., hypertrophy). But when we talk about conditioning, we need to change our thinking and focus on correct movement patterns too.
Kids and teens are still developing, even in high school. In the off season, as these young athletes are developing and growing, what they really need is to work on proper movement patterns, posture, balance, symmetry of joint mobility, and strength inside of those patterns so that when they “condition” they perform at a higher level and with significantly less risk of serious injury .
Putting a kid who doesn’t have proper movement patterns down in a weight room to throw around heavy weights or PR (i.e., set a “personal record”) on their bench press and then run a bunch of sprints is just going to reinforce poor movement and poor posture. The cardiovascular gains can be lost as soon as they stop working on them, so what’s the answer?
Most kids have muscle imbalances and postural deficits from looking at cell phones and computer screens and from too much sitting. Additionally, the lack of activities that many of us as adults grew up with (rope or tree climbing, biking, playing tag games, more regular outdoor active time with friends) combined with far too many games without adequate recovery has set up many of these kids to be deficient in the necessary motor skills for high performance without a higher injury risk. The bottom line is, if you want your young athlete to reach their potential, their body has to move efficiently, rather than a focus on longer (endurance) or with more resistance (heavy weights), which is the old school formula for conditioning.
The old way vs what we know now is going to be thrown at you as parents as you try to decipher the best program for your growing athletes. Most parents remember the old school body builder. Clearly these buff guys and gals know their way around a weight room because, well, look at them! But there’s a big difference between being an expert at hypertrophy (getting big), which looks intimidating and can win trophies on stage, and performance in athletics. Many programs try to be more modern by using the same old science from bodybuilding and then throwing in plyos (box jumps, squat jumps, basically any movement that adds an explosive element to it) and call it “CrossFit” or a “Bootcamp.” But we’re still not hitting the mark. If an athlete has been lifting in a sagittal plane (that’s in one direction, usually all out in front of you or above you) for size is currently the main part of your program, then you’re going to make massive improvements when you change over to a more performance based ideology.
Be wary of any program that focuses primarily on the amount of weight rather than compound movements (movements strung together, in multiple planes of direction), a strong core, and symmetry. In the end you may look good but your opponent who trained for movement is going to out-perform you. On the same token, any trainer can show up for a session with a ladder and put you through the hundreds of ladder movements you can find on the internet, but if your hip mobility is poor or your ankle flexion is hindered by your tight posterior tib (or any part of your calves, shins, and ankle ligaments) then your agility potential is capped regardless of how many ladders you do. Period.
If all of this sounds a little overwhelming that’s ok, it kind of is. Here are some tips to help you navigate what is a lot more complicated than throwing kids in a weight room to squat, deadlift and bench press as in the days of old.
- At the very least, find a trainer who can put your athlete through a Functional Movement Screening. This is going to identify exactly where movement patterns are strong and where they need help. I can’t emphasize this step enough. No matter how you choose to use this information, you will at minimum be addressing exactly what your athlete needs to perform their best and avoid injury before it’s too late. Too many kids have this done during rehab after a surgery instead of preemptively.
- Know your trainer’s background. As you can see, understanding proper movement and how to train your kid to move efficiently to reach their best potential when they do throw around the heavy weights, to move with precision, and to stay injury free is going to take the right person. Many trainers who are brand new or who have a shiny new certificate but no education in training (there are definitely exceptions!) may actually just be training your kid in the way that worked for them. Can they adapt their training methods to what your athlete needs. If your trainer isn’t familiar with movement screenings, go to one that is and have them give the results to your trainer if you like so you have a base line. The body moves through the path of least resistance. If your hamstrings are tight, your body will find a way to move and it will be through over extending another joint – BOOM.. Injury.
- Ask your trainer their plan. If you say you want your athlete to get size and strength and the trainer’s plan is to go straight into lifting heavy, plyos and power moves then you’ve just received a big red flag. Without building a proper foundation of good movement patterns and core stability and strength then you’re less likely to get the performance gains you’re after and might be opening up more chance of injury. If the trainer is only interested in your PR and trying to up it, they are not focusing on efficiency and performance. A good program approaches every angle and only adds what the body is prepared to receive. “If you’re a car, and you have a strong frame then we can put a GTO in there and fly, but if we don’t take the time to build a solid frame and you try to power up, you’re going to fall apart. Take the time to build the frame.” ~Chris Giesking Mi5 Fitness Owner
So, what age is appropriate for training? Kids at any age of movement can benefit from training because a good program is based on where each kid is foundationally. Rather than focusing on the best age for kids to start lifting, it’s more important that their foundation is strong and their movement patterns are efficient before resistance is added. Resistance can come in many forms, from body weight and gravity to bands to medicine balls to bars, plates, kettlebells and dumbbells, and when they are ready for that addition, their body will respond well to it and grow into it naturally. Early interception of poor movements and posture issues helps avoid some of the issues that can come later on for kids who start later or after an injury occurs.
What sports need training? Every sport involves movement. When one part of the body is moving, others must stabilize to allow that movement to occur. Stand up and lift your right knee as high as you can while keeping your other leg straight and your core upright. Not only do you have to use your hips to move one side but the other side has to remain stable or you’re going to lose your balance. Imagine trying that while moving – essentially that’s making a cut, and there’s a reason so many knees and ankles fall victim to these sudden changes of direction and speed: lack of proper movement and lack of stability – two things lacking in most training programs and weight rooms.
Thanks to Chris Giesking, Owner at MI5 Fitness in Lakeville for providing all of this great info, and Andrew Franz and DJ Hillier for the great shoulder mobility Video below! Giesking has his Master’s Degree in Human Movement, Level 2 FMS Certified trainer, many years of experience in the fitness industry, and holds numerous fitness certifications.
You can stop in and get an FMS Screening, check out a class, or pick up some training in Lakeville Minnesota. Check out their website at www.mi5fitness.com for more.
Shoulder Mobility Courtesy of Mi5 Fitness