Jan 29, 2015Youth Bodyweight Training
By Marc Lebert
When it comes to youth conditioning, most coaches would agree that young athletes should master bodyweight training before external loading. Before we learn to lift a weight, we have to first be proficient at moving our bodies.
It is important for our young athletes to have kinestetic awareness of the basics like push, pull, squat, lunge, rotate, lift and carry. Bodyweight exercises are functional and translate to better athletic performance by teaching the athlete to be aware of the body as an entire unit and they can be done anywhere and require minimal equipment.
Every off-season, I get some young athletes that want to bench 215 pounds but can’t perform 10 perfect bodyweight pushups! The kind of pushup where you are flat as a tabletop, your lats are “on,” your nose touches the ground first (and you actually pause) and the core is engaged throughout the set (hips up with abs pulled in towards spine and minimal lordosis). I like the bench press as much as the next guy, but not until they are first proficient at bodyweight training. Plus there are many ways to increase the difficulty of a pushup with “Spiderman” pushups, single leg, etc. Even when we progress to weight training/external loading I look at a variety of bodyweight options and how they can continue to help the athlete.
It is important to also look into the amount of musculature being used on a pushup vs. a bench press and whether or not the bench press is even a good option for the sport. For a linebacker, the arm drive is upwards, which is more akin to a shoulder press or at least an incline bench press. And what about the hip and leg drive? The bench press just cannot deliver this. And for other sports like hockey (for example), I would rather see rotational strength added in with chest strength exercises.
In reality, the athlete is never isolating the chest or any one muscle group while engaged in their sport. I am okay with isolating a muscle group to get it stronger, but not at the expense of training those muscles for a function. If you are running, cutting and tackling, you are not working any muscles in isolation–you need stability from the ground up, balance and a stronger core. In most every athletic scenario, the player is most likely standing when engaging the chest so it is important to train the chest while standing. I developed the BUDDY SYSTEM™ to facilitate standing chest and shoulder presses and standing abdominal rotations, making this training more functional and less aesthetic.
When an athlete gets good at the basic bodyweight movements, it is simple to change the intensity of the exercise by adding a weighted vest, incorporating weights, changing the speed/velocity of the movement or adding a jump. One other thing to consider is vertical rows and pullups. Young male athletes like to work the chest, but need to do back training at least twice as much. I use the EQUALIZER™ every workout with my young athletes to make sure they strengthen their mid/upper back and the posterior chain (adding hip raises, deadlifts, etc).
Many of the basic compound exercises like the pushup, pullup, dip and squat provide a foundation of strength and neuromuscular control that will benefit the athlete for years to come. I think that these core competencies need to be well established before too many sport-specific movements are incorporated. And there are many more bodyweight exercises I love, from sprinting (the most primitive form of strength training–you have to be strong, flexible and work the muscles at speed which is most important to sport), jumps of all kinds, skipping, single-leg squats (pistols), hamstring drops, back extensions, lunges, planks of all kinds, burpees of all kinds and more!
With each athlete it is important to first assess and address any biomechanical limitations and begin working on the foundations of posture, movement skills and correct form for each exercise. At my club, we do this with my friend and Youth Conditioning Expert David Kittner. He is a master at all this, but also makes training fun. He incorporates games for speed, agility, quickness, reaction, and teaches! It is also important to know the movement patterns used when an athlete is on the court or in the field. Is it specific to a few movements in limited planes or is it much more complex? This will help determine which exercises to perform and which method(s) to employ.
Bodyweight training has many advantages and is a key starting point for young athletes and a trusted athletic conditioning tool for old ones like myself! It maintains strength (all over), functionality and sport specific movements, prevents injury, is fun, and provides lots of variety.
Good luck moving your body!
Marc Lebert is the owner of Lebert Fitness Inc. a world leader in developing innovative fitness training tools. He is a Club Owner, Black Belt competing at a National level, a Certified NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Practitioner, International Presenter, Silver Lining Entrepreneur of the Year 2010 and named Top 100 Fitness Entrepreneurs in the Industry.
Marc developed the Lebert EQUALIZER™, BUDDY SYSTEM™ and STRETCH STRAP™. These portable and versatile tools are being used everywhere! In Clubs, Boot Camps, Military, School/Athletic programs, home gyms and more. To see more please visit www.LebertFitness.com.