Strength Introduction: Foundation

**This is the first instalment in a three-part series on how to introduce strength training to a young athlete**

Every athlete, at every level, has a very high demand for strength.

Their level of strength dictates their speed, explosiveness, and their potential for injury.

Say what you want about Speed/Agility/Quickness training but the fact of the matter is that strength is and always will be king.

It is impossible to increase speed and quickness without a base level of strength.

I know, I know…

“That one guy on Instagram does the fast feet stuff”

That is not speed…that is dancing…

So, if our goal is to build an explosive athlete we need to introduce strength training.

The thing is, every athlete will be exposed to a lifting program at some point in their athletic career. However, the quality of the program for their introduction to strength training is critical to their long-term athletic development.  Just like teaching a young Quarterback proper mechanics early in his career, proper strength training implementation will set the athlete up for long-term success.

To be completely honest, some introductory strength programs are awful and some are outstanding.

What separates the good from the bad is twofold…

  • Good programs focus on proper movement and muscle firing patterns before they introduce weight.
  • Proper strength implementation is done in a systematic fashion that takes into account all three phases of strength development – Isometric, Eccentric, and Concentric.

“Progressing athletes to the next exercise without requisite proficiency is like promoting a kid who reads at an elementary level to high school”

-Nicodemus Christopher, Director of Performance – Missouri Basketball

Now, let’s breakdown why it is so vital to focus on all three phases of strength development.  As I break these down I will do so in the order in which they should be implemented and in order of importance for a young athlete who is beginning strength training.

  • Isometric: This refers to holding in a static position at a determined joint angle.  By putting a young athlete in an isometric position, you teach the athlete how the movement should feel.  Over the course of the isometric hold, if the athlete is in the proper position, the required muscles will activate and teach how the body how it should respond to the demand of the movement.  In addition, you are able to manually adjust the athlete in order to ensure that they are maintaining proper joint alignment and posture.  This variation is outstanding for building a base level of strength in untrained athletes or athletes just entering a new training program.
  • Eccentric: This refers to the lowering or lengthening phase of a movement. For example, this is the downward movement phase of a squat or push-up. The eccentric phase recruits a high level of muscle fibers and is responsible for the majority of soreness an athlete feels. Just like the isometric phase this is a great way to build base-level strength as well as teaching the athlete to move through a strength movement with proper joint alignment and posture.  In addition, eccentric training does a great job of building structure and stability within the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  By controlling the eccentric phase, you are also teaching athletes how to properly decelerate in a coordinated environment which has great carryover to other demands of strength training and athletics.
  • Concentric: The concentric phase is the upward or shortening phase of movement. This is where absolute strength and power is built.  The concentric phase should be the last portion trained when working with a young athlete.  By focusing on this after the isometric and eccentric phases you insure that the body has the proper stability, strength, and structure to express power during the concentric phase.  Young athletes should have limited exposure to externally loaded (barbells) concentric movements until their have reached a level of neuromuscular control and strength proficiency that allows them to handle the external load with competency.  Of course, they should already be doing movements such as push-ups, pull-ups, and squats, however, more complex concentric movements should be reserved.

Most young athletes, when introduced to strength training, are given the concentric movements first.  This causes the athlete to build absolute strength without structure and stability to back it up.  If this is the case, the athlete will be put in a disadvantaged position because they will be given demands that their body simply cannot control properly.

So, how do you insure that the program your athletes are following is appropriate for a new lifter?

  • Make sure that they are taught how to move through the entire range of motion of a strength movement before given an external load.
  • Ensure that they are given a program that focuses on isometrics and controlled eccentrics before the concentric phase.
  • Understand that every new lifter will respond to strength differently and programs need to be specific to varied developmental levels and the athlete’s individual starting strength.
  • Be patient. Lay a good foundation.  Just like any well-built structure – the wider the base the higher the peak.

If you insure that your young athlete follows the above guidelines and training progressions you will have an athlete that is not only ready for the physicality of sport but is set up for a successful career in the weight room.

In our next instalment of this three-part series we will discuss the “4 Critical Areas a Young Lifter Needs to Train”.

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