Youth Sports Conditioning
Juan Carlos is the director and CEO of the Institute of Human Performance in Boca Raton Florida. His training methodologies have been successfully applied to the full spectrum of the population; youth, geriatrics, rehabilitation and elite athletes. He has authored numerous articles, books and videos, on various topics involving optimum physical performance.
We wanted to hear from him and his thoughts on youth sports conditioning
IYCA: What’s your background in youth sports conditioning and athletics? Have you trained a lot of young athletes?
JC: I’ve been a competitive athlete for over 3 decades. I started with little league when I was 7 and I’ll compete in the USA Judo Nationals (Masters Division) at 43. I competed in all of the major combative sports -from boxing to judo.
We at the Institute of Human Performance train hundreds of young athletes ranging from middle school to college every very. We also train some of the top pros.
IYCA: There are a lot of coaches, parents and even trainers who treat young athletes as if they were ‘little adults’. What I mean by that is they will take the training routine of a superstar athlete and use it as a guide when working with youngsters. Why, if at all, should we warn against that kind of training?
JC: I have had to save more kids from overzealous coaches and parents than anything else. Coaches and parents often want to live vicariously through their children, pushing them into sports and intensity levels they don’t want or not ready for -that is ALWAYS sad and disastrous.
Kids learn by discovery – this means things have to be fun and not so organized. The intensity and volume a young body can take is certainly different than what a mature body can take. Therefore, we develop a love for movement and the sport -the "athlete" naturally follows that development. Parent and coaches often want to develop great players and a love for winning and forget about athleticism and the love for training. That is like putting the horse before the carriage.
IYCA: The age old debate is ‘How old should an athlete be before they begin lifting weights’. What’s your view on that controversial topic?
JC: Is not the weights that is the problem -it is the intensity. No body would have a problem letting a 2 year old play with a 2kg medicine ball (my son is 30 lbs at 14 months a regularly plays with his 2kg ball -lifting it, rolling it, etc.) – yet this baby will lift 12-15% of body weight – is that not Weight training? You bet!
What about a push-up -most women can’t do 1 – why" It’s too much weight! Is a push-up for a woman any different than for a kid -NO!
So, all exercises are weight training!! Light dumbbells are very safe for all ages -IFFFFFF – the child’s curiosity, desire and willingness to participate is there.
Now, if you are talking about a fear about touching iron (and want to call that lifting weights – then that is a psychotic issue – I’m the expert in that:):)!
IYCA: Using your ideals, could you define ‘functional conditioning’ for us?
JC: Functional training is decided by the goal -not the training. Functional training is training that has a specific function as a focus.
Bodybuilding is functional for hypertrophy, movement training is functional to enhance movement skills.
If you do hypertrophy training, will your movement improve -YES! Can you don many movements that don’t isolate muscles that will give you hypertrophy – YES!
Which training will have the greatest carryover to its intended goal? Hypertrophy for muscle size – movement training for movement skills.
Function is a spectrum – and therefore – functional training is also a spectrum.
IYCA: If you were training a healthy ten-year-old athlete, what would a session with you look like? Length? Exercises?
JC: About 45-60 minutes
5 minutes -to explain the session
15-20 minutes -biomotor drills using a whole bunch of toys – (Agility ladders, cones, etc.)
15-20 minutes -strength training – (body weight, med balls, stability ball, dumbbells, partner exercises, etc.)
10-15 agility and conditioning games -(obstacle course rages, tag, etc.) 5 minute -affirmations and cool down stretches
Mandatory water breaks every 10-minutes if we are outside in the heat – and every 20 if we are inside in the AC.
IYCA: Is there a particular criteria or path that you follow when developing young athletes over a long period of time? For example, at what age is it best to develop flexibility? Power? Coordination?
JC: There is no way to separate strength from flexibility from power from agility. It is your focus that changes -but all variables are addressed to some degree by mere transfer of training. For example – As you run (speed) you get stronger legs (strength and power), as you get stronger legs you can change directions faster (agility).
However -in general terms…….
1) Develop a love for movement and training (new born-middle school). NEVER PUNISH WITH EXERCISE!!!! Movement and training is a privilege. How can an athlete learn this if you use training (e.g. running) as a punishment? If you need to discipline, don’t let them participate.
2) Flexibility and agility is best addressed during the younger years -that save you training time on the back side. I like to have my training include tons of agility and flexibility (does not necessarily mean static flexibility) from 8-13.
3) From 14 on I look to begin increasing the intensity of the training and take advantage of the hormonal environment to add on some muscle – hypertrophy and strength work and increase at this stage. The athlete normally explodes physically at about 14-17 -especially the boys.
4) As strength and stability increase -more extensive power training can be attempted – usually 16-18 -depending on the degree of physiological and mental development of the youth sports conditioning for the athlete athlete.
IYCA: Should athletes specialize in a particular sport at a young age or participate in a number of different sports? Why?
JC: At a young age (4-13), the more sports the better! These are the years where athleticism is developed. The player is refined after the ingredients for play (athleticism) are in place – at about 14-20yers. Then, the elite athlete peaks in their 20’s – depending on the sport and specific athlete.