Here’s an interview I did with my buddy Craig Ballantyne that many of you may have missed the first time around:
CB: What do athletes need to work on most?
JF: Most athletes are too weak. I don’t care what sport they play or at what level they are playing at, most athletes, in general, need to get stronger.
I think that if most athletes just focused on properly getting stronger, they would improve their performance and be a lot better off.
I am not downplaying the importance of running mechanics, flexibility, agility, change of direction and things of this nature but no one thing is going to help younger athletes any more than just getting stronger. For this reason strength training has to be the number one priority in most cases.
By improving your strength you will improve your linear and lateral speed, you will improve your vertical jump, you will hit harder and throw further, your conditioning will come up and you will help to prevent injuries.
CB: How should kids train to get fast?
JF: Well after we have them on a good strength training program, the next thing we need to teach them is basic running mechanics and basically just how to move athletically.
They need to learn how to control their bodies in space and accelerate, decelerate and change directions properly.
People try to get too fancy sometimes and use methods that Charlie Francis would employ with an Olympic sprinter who is going for a world record, when training ten year old. It need not be this complicated.
Most kids do plenty of plyometrics on a daily basis both in the sports that they play and just due to the fact that they are kids and running and jumping is a big part of a kid’s life. For this reason I don’t think you need to do tons of fancy plyos.
Some basic running, jumping, skipping and change of direction drills coupled with a good strength and flexibility program will improve any kids speed. The problem with many kids is not that they don’t do enough “speed training,” it is that they don’t know how to run properly.
I would spend time teaching proper mechanics and do drills that would reinforce what you teach. For change of direction and the ability to react and think on your feet, nothing beats just marking off a set area and playing tag.
One final thing I should mention is that in all the years I have worked with young kids I have rarely come across teenagers who possess great flexibility or mobility.
A lot of it is due to the fact that they are going through growth spurts when they first start working with me and a lot of it is due to the fact that kids lead a more sedentary life and play way more Nintendo nowadays than they used to. Dynamic flexibility and mobility should be addressed from the beginning with every young athlete.
And parents need to get those punks off the couch and out running around more often.
CB: What are your top lifts for absolute beginner young athletes?
JF: Leg extensions, butt blasters, pec dec flyes and concentration curls. Thanks, I’ll be here all week. Of course I’m kidding.
In all seriousness I would have to go with bodyweight squats, split squats, pushups, chin ups, bodyweight hanging rows aka inverted pullups aka fat man rows, abdominal bridges aka planks, side planks, “dead bugs”, glute bridges, medicine ball throws and things of that nature.
Rope climbing is also an awesome addition to any training program.
That covers the strength aspect. One thing often overlooked is tumbling. I think adding tumbling to the warm up portion of the workout can do wonders for developing athleticism in young (and old) athletes.
The main thing to remember with young athletes is that whatever you do, it has to be fun.
CB: And for mature young athletes?
JF: You have to stick with the tried and true basics. This would of course be squats, deadlifts, military presses, dumbbell presses, chin ups, rows, pushups, dips, snatches and cleans. All of those exercises have a number of different variations and can be done in many different ways.
Not everyone can get a hold of the proper equipment but I think every athlete should do some strongman training as well. On top of that list I would put farmers walks, first and foremost, along with rope pulls, car pushes and sled drags.
CB: What are time wasters for young athletes?
JF: Anything that is too “sport specific” is a huge waste of time. Specialization for young athletes is a huge waste of time and is very dangerous physically, mentally and emotionally.
Kids should be concerned with becoming better overall athletes and worry about becoming better baseball or soccer players a few years down the road.
Recently I had some free time and went to observe a group training class at one of these sport specific training facilities. It was the eight to ten year old group and they had the kids working on first step and sprint mechanics like they were going to be facing Michael Johnson in the Olympics this summer. I think that’s definitely overkill and just absolutely ridiculous.
You need to teach a kid how to move athletically and work on mechanics but you don’t need to get that intense at that young age. It is way too much for a kid that age to think about and will probably do more harm than good. This is a gimmick that is used to sucker parents into thinking that they have found the ultimate “sport specific” training center and that this is the place where their kid will become the next Derek Jeter.
In reality it’s just a marketing gimmick, a waste of money and a detriment to the kids future.