Youth Athletic Training
Phase 1 – Connective Tissues
Youth training results in decreased risk of injury, increased connective tissue strength, balance, coordination, core, speed enhancement, neurological adaptation, and increased athletic performance. Youth training has proven itself successful time-and-time again in achieving these traits when a consistent proper training model is followed.
The FMF Youth Athletic Training Model®, which should be applied to any beginner, consists of a series of steps that incorporates anatomical adaptation. Anatomical adaptation requires youth (or anyone) to go through phases that work on muscular balance while increasing the support system of the body. The support system consists of joints, tendons, ligaments, core and skeletal muscles. FMF’s Youth Athletic Training Model® is broken down into 6 subcategories: first, the connective tissues; second, joint stabilization; third, muscular balance; fourth, developing core musculature; fifth, stabilizer muscles; and sixth, load and focused adaptation.
Phase one is the development, strengthening and adaptation to movement of connective tissues. Connective tissues include tendons, cartilage, fascia tissue, bones, and ligaments. All in which act as the support base, the transfer of forces, and the connection highways for the entire body.
Connective tissues are often injured during sports. Currently, youth injuries are on the rise due to an increase in sedentary lifestyles brought about by technological advances. This lifestyle does not allow for anatomical adaption through activity. Therefore, it is essential to engage in resistance training that focuses on connective tissue strengthening. Increased stress within the connective tissues, in a controlled environment, has shown to increase strength (1). Stress can be delivered in the form of body weight range of motion (ROM) training and/or load training. Exercises used for phase one will be covered later; however, note that full ROM bodyweight movements are utilized frequently.
Connective tissue strength leads to a decreased risk of injury during sport activity. Connective tissues maintain their strength, if trained properly, during high levels of concentric muscular contractions that are associated with explosive movements. These movements place the connective tissues under extreme stress. However, the eccentric motion (i.e. downward, decelerating, and landing) places the connective tissue under much greater stress than concentric contractions. Eccentric training is a critical component in anatomical adaption. Eccentric training spawns the greatest amounts of muscular and connective tissue growth; therefore, engaging in eccentric training can serve as both an injury preventer and a performance enhancer.
Adaptations to the connective tissues, in response to resistance or athletic training, take more time than muscular adaptations because of slower blood flow (2). Connective tissues simply cannot adapt as quickly as the muscles. Consequently, advancing youth too fast can create a platform for muscular imbalances, lack-of-flexibility, etc… For example, heavier loads result in expedited muscular growth, which often leads to a decrease in balance, coordination, and synchronization between the muscles and connective tissues because of the rate of adaption. Lack-of-balance and coordination occurs once muscular force exceeds a specific level.
In order to adequately stimulate connective tissue adaptations, along with neurological adaptations, a load of 30-50% 1RM has been suggested (3). Technique, ROM training, and progressive loading are essential to decrease imbalances between connective tissues and the muscles. Start all youth or novice athletes with a light load as you develop and teach them. However, there is no set length in time because each athlete adapts at different speeds. A baseline of exercises and movements must be created and met in order to advance the athlete into heavier loads.
There is zero evidence that shows negative side effects of progressive load training on youth when developed correctly. The following exercises are musts and great to teach in this phase:
-Overhead Squats – use a PVC pipe or a broom stick
-Squat – front squats with dumbbells is usually the easiest to teach first; teach proper alignment
-Split Squats – this uni-lateral exercise should replace lunges because it is easier to master
-Plank – emphasize lordosis spinal alignment
-Pushup – teach them proper arm angles and core alignment
-Marching – this sprint technique drill places the body in proper sprinting positions
-FMF Step Up© – require a pause at the top in order to require greater balance; proprioceptively enriched environment creates superior balance
-Weightless Turkish Get Up – this is for slightly more advanced youth but great for neurological / core development
Connective tissues are involved in every movement and should be focused on at all times. Beginning with connective tissue adaptation will develop the athlete more efficiently without creating muscular imbalances.
Continue to read onto phase II of Youth Athletic Training – joint stabilization.
Copyright Functional Muscle Fitness LLC © 2012
- Zernicke RF and Loitz BJ. Exercise related adaptation in connective tissue. Strength and Power Training in Sport. Blackwell Scientific Publications: 80-90, 1992
- Conroy BP, Kraemer WJ, Maresh CM, and Dalsky GP. Adaptive response to bone and physical activity. Medical Exercise Nutrition Health 1: 64-70, 1992.
- Bompa TO. Periodization Training for Sports: Programs for Peak Strength in 35 Sports. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics: 85-95, 1964.