1.) World’s longest plank.
2.) 46 inch box jump.
3.) Bosu ball squat.
4.) 100 burpees.
5.) Running with a parachute at age 10.
6.) Altitude mask soccer ball juggling.
These are the 6 magic drills youth athletes shoulder master, right?
Truthfully, I just said shit to say shit. Please ignore ;-O
Sure, those 6 listed above look cool, flashy, and may snag Instagram followers, but when it comes to training kids, it’s better to err on the simpler and SAFER side.
Today’s guest post comes from my friend and strength coach Justin Ochoa. He’s contributed before, and I’m happy to have him drop some youth training wisdom bombs. Enjoy.
As a coach, the number one question I receive is something along the lines of, “Hey Justin, what does little Johnny need to do to get faster/quicker/more explosive/higher vertical/etc.?”
Little Johnny is 10 years old. While I understand how important those attributes are to all sports, Little Johnny doesn’t need to worry about those just yet. What is most important right now is that he learns and masters the fundamentals of moving like an athlete. The foundational movements of strength training, if you will. It’s important that he understands why these pillar movements are vital and how they can help him out in the long run.
Kids in this age group (10-14) are still growing. Their bodies will be vastly different from year to year, with differences in physique, mobility and performance that are virtually out of their control. Kids need to learn to be in-tune with their body and how it moves.
Additionally, it’s most important that Little Johnny’s parents understand all the above. When you work with kids in the 8-13 age range, you should be giving the parents AT LEAST a 1:1 ratio of info.
My belief is that youth training should not be as focused on sport-specific demand, but more on overall strength and conditioning development. At this stage of a kid’s life, my mentality is to prepare them for anything they decide to do whether it’s play basketball, football or the freaking bass drum in the school band. The common denominator is that is almost always comes back to relative and general strength, sound movement patterns and most all – safely achieving those things.
My two cents on what achieving those look like and how you can implement them are below. Each movement pattern below is considered essential for youth athletes – Push, Pull, Squat, Hinge, Lunge and Carry.
Some may argue for the following:
- Gait Cycle
Those are all valid, and I can’t say that they belong or don’t belong. I’m simply saying the six that I listed are what I prioritize for an 8-13 year old kid (and probably beyond).
Keep in mind these are movement patterns. You can load these patterns differently to accommodate the needs of the athlete. The list below are my go-to options.
Tip: Below you’ll see “cues” and “corrosives” of each movement. This is a concept a stole from NHSSCA Regional Director, Brian Clarke, that works awesome with kids. These are basically the do’s and don’t’s of each exercise that are easy to comprehend and implement.
The squat is widely regarded as the “King of all Exercises” due to the role it plays in performance, physique and overall health results. It’s commonly joked about that squats solve all problems. I wouldn’t deny that claim. There are over 100 squat variations you can choose from, but when working with a young athlete like Jack (12) featured in the video below, I have had awesome luck with the Squat + Press Out.
Squat w/ Press Out
- Feet Hip-Shoulder Width
- Toes Pointed Straight
- Knees in Line with Toes
- Sit Down & Back
- Proud Chest
- Awkward Foot Stance
- Excessive External Rotation
- Heels Come Off Ground
- Excessive Spinal Flexion/Extension
Next on the list of essentials comes the Hip Hinge movement. This is definitely one of the most difficult for our kids to learn because a lot of them are still discovering how their bodies move. It requires a hip-dominant movement, which is an unfamiliar pattern for many kids this young.
I’d argue that this is the most important movement to master. The transfer to sport and life is second to none. Getting them to feel their hamstrings, glutes and back muscles in action is super important to their long-term athletic development.
Note from Erica: The hip hinge is critical for learning “athletic stance” in all sports. This stance means hips back, chest tall, and knees softly bent. It allows our athletes to move faster laterally and acceleration/deceleration quicker.
Full disclosure, this is my demo athlete’s third time working this exercise, so we’re not completely where we want to be yet but I felt that it was important to be authentic and show real world examples in the videos.
Similar to the squat, the hip hinge has endless amounts of variations, progressions and regressions. Choose whatever works for your athlete or your gym set-up.
- Neutral Neck & Spine
- Braced Core
- Hips Reach Back
- Soft Knees
- Posterior Chain Tension
- Shoot the Arrow
- Excessive Spinal Flexion/Extension
- Knee Dominant
- Lazy Hips
The upper body pulling motion is next in the series and pretty much defaults to a row exercise. I love rows. Kids love rows. This is one of the most customizable movements because it’s very easy for kids to pick up.
You can implement it early and often, and comfortably give them some “homework” to do on their own time without worrying about their safety.
Upper body pulling will directly benefit an athlete’s back musculature and can help lay a solid foundation for future training and overall [dare I say it] “postural” health.
- Reach Long
- Tuck Shoulders Down & Back
- Lock Ribs Down
- Controlled reps
- Incomplete or Excessive ROM
- Anterior Humeral Glide
- Loss of control
Most common exercise in youth training? The push-up.
Most butchered exercise in youth training? The push-up.
Push-ups on the floor are not entry level. People misuse them as if they are. When performed correctly, they are actually extremely difficult (and effective).
Most of what we see in youth training, in terms of push-ups, makes the push-up a punishment exercise or a space filler in the workout. I’d rather save push-ups for executing properly and using it from strength and athletic development that promotes great upper body mechanics.
Hands Elevated Push-Up
- Body Like a Board
- Up on Tippy Toes
- Make an Arrow with Your Arms
- Hips or Low Back Sag
- Core Note Engaged
- Incomplete Range of Motion
- Elbows Too Far From Body
The lunge is a moving single leg variation of a squat with a little bit of contralateral action happening in the kinetic chain, making this a little bit more difficult for kids to master. The important thing about the lunge pattern is that it’s typically moving forward, backward or laterally – which requires a little bit more coordination and balance. Sometimes getting a kid to walk and talk at the same time is a large task. God bless kids and their squirrel-like attention spans.
Nevertheless, this is great for teaching kids to use their legs independently, improve motor control and balance. As seen in the video, we’re not complete at the mastery level yet, but Jack does a great job at taking his time and getting the most out of every rep.
- Roughly 90 Degrees of Flexion Per Leg
- Push Through the Ground with Front Foot
- Contralateral Arm Movement
- Slight Lean Forward
- Forward Knee Tracking with Heel Raise
- Excessive Lumbar Extension
- Ipsilateral Arm Movement
- Lack of Force Production
Last, but not least, is the carry pattern. This is the easiest for the kids to learn and master, but one of the most in-depth lessons we can teach them. Carrying items requires total body control and really drives home the importance of trunk muscles.
At the end of the day, you pick up an item and walk with it. Then repeat. When you have an exercise this easy to perform, the real challenge is making sure they know the “why” behind the exercise.
Again, kids don’t have the greatest attention span. SQUIRREL! Making sure they stay very intentional during a carry will help them get the most out of it, instead of just wondering why the heck we have them walking up and down the gym holding random objects.
Single Arm Farmer’s Walk
- Braced Core
- Hulk Grip
- Controlled Gait
- Excessive Weight Shift
- Flimsy Wrist/Grip
- Walking Out of Control
My overall goal of this article is to help parents out there. Many coaches will consider this “old news” and probably do it better than me, because I am awkward and hate myself on camera. I cannot stress how important it is for parents out there to know that this is what is in the best interest for your 8-13 (ish) year old athletes. Mastering these bang-for-your-buck movements is going to send the kid or middle or high school extremely prepared, which their coaches will appreciate. Plus, it’ll make them awesome at sports. Win-win.
The internet is full of flashy training that your kid probably would rather do. You know, the obstacle course footwork drills, the sport-specific movements against resistance, the crazy balancing tricks that “work your core,” etc. There may be a time and place for those, but I’m telling you as a coach and a parent that those flashy training modalities DO NOT trump the basic foundational movements. Please keep this article in mind when Little Johnny wants to do something he saw [insert pro athlete] do on Instagram.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justin Ochoa is a Personal Trainer, Strength Coach and the Co-Owner of PACE Fitness Academy in Indianapolis, IN.