I get asked a lot of questions on youth fitness. Some are easy to answer, while others propel me to write a dissertation.
Of course, not to blow sunshine up my own ass, I could write a dissertation backwards on youth fitness. With Justin Bieber music playing in the background. While under the influence of sangria. While solving a Rubix cube on the side. While blindfolded. While sword fighting a White Walker. Youth fitness lights me up so much, I could discuss it in any scenario on the fly.
Which reminds me…
Earlier this week, I did an Instagram Live and was asked a question about injury prevention for young female athletes. After my follower asked this question, he said the first thing he noticed was my face glow and eyes light up as much as Galadriel mind fucking someone. Hard.
In fact, he said, “you looked like you wanted to attack the screen and lecture me. In a good way.”
If you’re going to ask me a question on youth fitness, you know I’ll come back with fervor and passion. Like a rapper in the midst of a freestyle battle, I have no off switch. I have a hella amount of flow and go IN, to say the least.
With that said, I asked my followers more of their top questions on youth fitness and want to provide my insights.
Think I can answer all your questions in 30 minutes? Fuck yes, let’s do this:
1. “How can under 12 year olds build endurance?”
Here’s a mind fuck for you: use the equipment this beautiful planet gave you and get outside, you asshat.
Admittedly, I don’t know what parents *really* want me to say here. Make their child run full field suicides? Enroll their kid in a NFL Combine? Time their kid’s 2-mile run?
Fuck outta here.
Use the outdoors. I’m talking playgrounds, parks, trees, and hills. I promise your kid’s heart rate will get up just as much, if not more, than a formal conditioning drill.
Let kids be kids.
And yeah, get the fuck outta your house. Conditioning for kids = less Fortnite, more play. I’d argue this is true for the under-12-years-old age group.
Once kids are in high school, then it may be time for more “formal” conditioning.
2. “How can I get my child faster?”
This bears repeating: the slowest child at age 10 may be the fastest player on the field at age 16.
Be patient. Their speed will develop. But if you want to get a head start, ensure your child is being exposed to a variety of upper and lower body movements so they’re tapping into their neuromuscular systems during their critical years of puberty.
Also, be even more patient and read this 1,000-word dissertation I wrote on speed development for kids.
3. “When should my kid start strength training?”
I’m going to answer this like every other fit pro: “it depends.”
But to give you a general “sweet spot” for youth strength training, I would argue any time from age 11-15.
Girls, especially, mature rapidly at age 11, making their bodies much more able to handle extra load. However, we have to keep in mind, with rapid growth, comes reinforcing movement patterns and coordination. So make sure you do these first. A kid must prove they can move efficiently and safely with bodyweight before introducing them to the gym. This is why I always preach kids work with a qualified strength and conditioning professional.
Here are a few drills I present in my Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program to release November 28th that you can get started with:
4. “Will my kid fall behind if they don’t strength train as soon as everyone else?”
I have two criteria when it comes to strength training for kids:
– are they physically mature?
– are they mentally ready?
Sure, a kid may be physically mature and ready to load at age 12 with a perfect score on their Functional Movement Screen, but maybe they loathe the gym setting.
However, when they turn 14, they’re enthralled to get into the weight room.
To that end, this type of kid won’t be “held back” if they wait a few years to start strength training. They will be fine. And I promise, waiting a few years to be mentally ready won’t hinder their chances of going pro.
I think a lot of parents feel their kid will “fall behind” if they don’t start training with a trainer early on. This is so incredibly far from the truth, and I hope it comforts you that beginning strength training at age 14 when they’re mentally prepared will be far more beneficial than them half-assing a program at age 12.
Just something to ponder.
5. “How can I incorporate on-the-pitch training for my youth soccer team?”
I address this extensively in my Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program, but here’s what you need to know:
– attack everything: upper, lower, anterior, posterior and you’ll be well on your way to building beasts.
Here’s a sample program (because I love my readers):
– Split Squat 3×8 each
– Band Face Pulls 2×12
– Band Good Mornings 3×5
– Side Plank Hip Adduction 2×15-30 seconds each
– Single Leg Bridge 2×12 each
– Side Plank Band Abduction 2×8 each
6. “What is the most important movement or exercise for kids to get down?”
I’d argue the hip hinge. Not only does it serve as the basis for the deadlift, but it also helps with moving kids into an athletic stance position to improve reactivity, agility, and power production.
Read more on the hip hinge here.
7. “How do I inspire my kid to get outside and play?”
Simply, make fitness fun.
There’s nothing worse than nagging your kid to workout.
Make it fun first, then slowly add in the structure. It’s a tactic I’ve used as a strength coach for YEARS. It works. Don’t fight me on this.
8. “What else does strength training do for my kid besides the physical benefits?”
I could argue this point for all populations, not just kids.
But strength training has its way of building confidence in people because it allows people to see what they’re made of physically and mentally.
My 8th grade girls, especially, love the way Pull-Ups make them feel – empowered, badass, and athletic.
If you’re a strength coach and you have your female athletes coming in to your facility begging you to program Pull-Ups that day, you’re the shit.
9. “Should kids do Push-Ups?”
Yes, but teach them.
Here’s some help:
10. “Erica, why do you train kids? Why don’t you train professional athletes?”
If there’s one question I’m asked all the time, it’s this one.
Honestly, I’m not sure why strength and soccer coaches see training professional athletes as the “end goal” and being able to say they “made it” in life.
Not to get deep or anything, but I feel I’ve “made it” because I truly enjoy developing youth players. Remember the Play-Doh we used to mold when we were kids? That’s kinda sorta how I feel about youth athletic development: kids are balls of clay to be molded into the best athletes possible. Coaches who work with youth athletes have the opportunity to truly impact them during the critical years of mental and physical development and to see this process through to college and beyond.
That’s why I train youth, and will only train youth for that matter. I love teaching. I love coaching. But most importantly, I love being immersed in the physical development process.
So keep asking me questions about youth fitness. I don’t know all of the answers, of course, but I’m willing to research, introspect, and discuss all of this while solving a Rubix cube on the side. ;-O