Lately I have been receiving a few questions from strength coaches on how to best program youth warm-ups in response to one of my articles discussing youth training.
Warm-ups for young athletes (7-12 years old) are going to differ greatly from young adults (18-35 years old) who have spent an exorbitant amount of time performing the same task over and over again (texting, desk work, construction etc). Warm-ups are used to target individuals and their biggest weakness or lacking attributes.
Adults tend to lack range of motion at their thoracic spine (upper back), hips, and shoulders, and have an extremely weak core.
Youth athletes tend to lack coordination, relative strength, and stability so we need to address this in the warm-up. Here are 2 things you must do to write better youth warm-up.
1) Skip foam rolling and get directly to a dynamic warm-up
“The ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently.”
Coordination development is a process that takes a series of repeated exposures over time and is based on both diversity and versatility. It is vitally important to introduce coordination training during this phase (7-12) due to the ability of their nervous system to learn and adapt (nervous system plasticity) is extremely high. Our goal as strength coaches should be to help youth athletes create a large movement library that encompasses varying elements (body awareness, locomotion, balance, rhythm) that all build on top of one another.
A 10-year-old girl who specialized in softball at a young age and plays it year around is going to have a small movement library. Her exposure to new stimulus is low, so the shelves of her movement library are pretty bare:
A 10-year-old girl who plays multiple sports throughout the year and continues to free play with friends. Her exposure to new stimulus is high because of multiple degrees of stimulus. Her stimulus and movement library looks like this:
Choosing a dynamic warm-up will get kids moving right from the get go while also keeping their interest. Dynamic warm-ups for these young athletes should include variations and games that address these qualities while simultaneously allowing them to master these skills and have fun.
Single leg hops
2) Use mini circuits that target both strength and stability
Young guns need to learn how to move their own bodyweight and create tension that will prevent them from moving around like a wet noodle on the floor. I usually perform mini circuits after a 5-8 minute dynamic warm up. When choosing exercises for these mini circuits I like use a sandwich approach.
The sandwich approach:
Global movement + STABILITY + Global movement
A global movement is one in which the body is moving/working together to move a joint/joints (squat, crawl, hip hinge, push, pull)
A stability movement is where they have to hold their body in isolation and prevent movement from occurring (prone and side bridges, paloff presses).
A mini circuit could look like this:
Repeat 3 times
Overhead Lunge Walk x 5 reps + Prone Bridge x 10sec + Hand Switches over a Reebok step x 5
By performing a lower number of repetitions we can focus on the quality not quantity of the movement and kids won’t get fatigued to the point that their form breaks down. I would encourage any strength coach to use a similar method for the following reasons:
1. It’s simple for both the young guns and yourself to understand and perform
2. It’s a great and efficient way to create context later in the session
3. Kids can ask questions and you can make small tweaks to their form because they are not moving fast
4. You can get as creative as you would like with exercise selection. Just try to keep it to three or four exercises so kids don’t get lost
By implementing these simple tips you can help youth athletes increase their movement library, get stronger, and gain confidence both on and off the field.