I have seen a growing trend in fitness that has bothered me, and that is the idea that child or teen athletes should be working out for their sport to the point where it causes nausea and/or vomiting. Furthermore, workouts are pushed past the athletes’ limits by trainers or strength coaches on purpose. Somehow, this is justified as a good workout because the athlete threw up or became nauseous, when the reality is that this is almost pointless, is dangerous, and is a sign of an inadequate strength and conditioning program design. I have also heard ridiculous stories of athletes preparing for a particular sport performing types of training that are completely inappropriate for his or her sport. It may be time to reconsider your child athlete’s training program. Training programs should be appropriate for an athlete’s chosen sport(s), keep progress happening, and help prevent injury.
When it comes to strength and conditioning for a sport, a program should be able to accomplish a few main goals:
- The athlete should be consistently getting stronger in the movements that have been proven to produce more force and power on the field.
- The athlete should have an adequate baseline level of conditioning that is appropriate for his or her sport – but not more than this.
- The athlete should be able to gain more muscle through frequent workouts during the week, as opposed to one overly-strenuous workout. More frequent workouts promote additional mind-muscle connections in the body, without overworking the body.
If a program is not designed with these goals in mind, the program is inefficient and possibly harmful to an athlete.
The reality is all athletes have different demands in their sport, so their training requires different goals geared towards that sport. Far too many times I’ve heard training protocols that do not have logic behind their design. For example, softball players being told to run 3-6 miles per day, 3-4 days a week, and doing mostly nothing else but skill work for their sport. It doesn’t take much logical thinking to see that this program is completely absurd. The majority of softball plays are completed within 10-15 seconds, and utilize explosive movements that require vast amounts of power (e.g. sprint to first base or sprint to catch a fly ball). These plays require virtually no aerobic capacity. Why in the world are these softball players being forced to run several miles a day, many days a week? Are we training for cross-country running or explosive, anaerobic, fast-paced softball? This is just one example of an athlete being inappropriately trained in a way that actually hinders progress for the athlete’s chosen sport, softball.
Then we have the situation of athletes being forced to sprint or pushed to their anaerobic threshold (fancy way to say to the point of vomiting), regardless of the sport they play, and clumping all athletes into one category while calling it an effective program. I am seeing this trend in fitness and it really frustrates me. Just because a child or teenage athlete throws up from a sprint workout does not mean it was a productive workout! In fact, the opposite is the case. If there was not a design in the actual workout to improve from the last workout in some fashion (progressive overload), and all that was accomplished is a kid losing his lunch in a garbage can, it was not only ineffective, but dangerous and pointless.
A third and final example I see is excessive use of agility drills, ladder drills, and jumping and bounding types of activities. These types of drills are not in and of themselves bad, but when they are used almost exclusively at the expense of real, force-producing workout programs, they are simply calorie burners and nothing more. The way to help a child athlete to be more explosive is not through endless rounds of ladder drills and hopscotch on dots. We must improve the child’s ability to produce force with their muscles (and yes, I am talking about children as young as 8 years of age). When you have improved their muscular power and force through sound strength and conditioning methods, you can then take them to their field, mat, rink etc. and practice with their new, forceful bodies and see a dramatic difference in how far they throw, how hard they kick, and how fast they sprint. Agility drills and ladder drills don’t make a child more forceful. Agility drills and ladder drills just make them better at agility drills and ladder drills, and there is little carry-over, if any, into their sport.
The Takeaway: The examples of inappropriate training programs in this article are just a few amongst many when it comes to training children and/or teenagers for their chosen sport(s). A program should train an athlete for the appropriate level of strength, power, and explosiveness needed for his or her sport (and even playing position on the field, rink, court etc.). It should include adequate levels of conditioning work appropriate for his or her sport, and not more than that amount, as it will cut into recovery time and essentially make an athlete less forceful. And the program should be doing this type of training as frequently as possible, as children have a quick recovery rate and tax their nervous systems and muscle tissue to a lesser degree than adults do. Make sure your kid is getting everything out of his or her training time as is possible! Efficiency is the name of the game.