The biggest misconception I see in youth sports training today is the belief that skill training is all that’s needed to get better at the athlete's chosen sport. Young athletes will do a bunch of dribbling drills or dribble drives for basketball, work on receiving routes for football, doing passing drills for soccer, etc., thinking this is all they need to do.
This type of skill training will definitely improve the young athlete's performance if done correctly, however this is only half the battle. In order to complete that dribble drive and finish at the basket strong through traffic, you have to have the quickness, explosiveness and vertical jump to pull it off.
So, what does it take for young athletes to become elite?
It’s the work you put in off the court/field that will get your body prepared for the things you are trying to do on the court or field.
Below are 3 exercises that, if done consistently, will have you quicker, more explosive, and jumping out the gym!
1. Running Stairs
Outcome: Strengthens the lower body for power
Ideally, you would like a set of stairs of at least 15 steps or you can use bleachers or semi steep hills. The object is to treat your stair workout as if you were doing intervals, which you are essentially doing.
When you run up the stairs at a certain speed and against gravity, then come back down at lower speed without the effects of gravity, you are doing interval training.
This type of training will spark your cardiovascular system and elevate your heart rate while strengthening your lower body due to the force of gravity.
So as you can see, this is an excellent workout with many benefits.
After a 6-8 week stair climbing program you will immediately notice the new strength and power in your legs with an overall higher cardio endurance. Try this workout 2-3 times a week for 6-8 weeks.
- Run up the stairs taking each step at a moderate to high pace making sure to pump your knees, then jog back down slower than you went up each step at a time. Each up and down is 1 rep and repeat for 10 reps. After each week you are to add two more reps, (You should be able to complete up to 20 reps in 5 weeks.)
- Run up the stairs at a moderate to high pace skipping 1 step at a time, then jog back down slowly one step at a time. Each up and down is 1 rep and repeat for 5 reps. Each week, you’ll add one rep. This exercise is advanced, so you should be experienced in running up one step at a time before you try skipping a step.
There are many varieties you can add to the stair climbing workout, such as lateral climbing, 2 foot hops, jump squats, etc. These varieties can be added later as you become more advanced.
2. Jumping Rope
Outcome: Increase quickness and vertical leap
Someone asked me the other day, if I had to choose only one workout to do out of pushups, pull ups, squats, or jumping rope, which one would I choose. My answer was that I would probably choose jumping rope.
All those other exercises are also effective for getting stronger and increasing power, however, jumping rope has so many benefits, it equates to getting more bang for your buck.
Jumping rope strengthens your glutes, quads, calves, and even your upper body. It also increases your cardio and muscular endurance, which will strengthen your heart and your bones.
Typically when young athletes attempt to workout with the jump rope, they don't do it for long enough, therefore they are not reaping the benefit from the use of the rope.
Jumping rope must be done with many reps or in a certain time frame in order to be effective. This is because your body needs to begin to fatigue before jumping rope becomes effective. It’s sort of like running distance for endurance. You can’t run for 1 or 2 minutes a day and expect to reap the benefits. The goal is to run more and more so you can build up your endurance and body strength. This is the same for jumping rope.
The goal is to jump for longer and to do different jumps that work different muscles. Here’s my recommendation for a 6-8 week jumping rope program:
- Do regular two-foot jumps starting off at 30 second intervals or 50 jumps. Each week you will add 15 seconds of time or you can add 25 jumps. In 6 weeks, you should be able to jump nonstop for 2 minutes or complete 200 jumps.
- Using a basketball court or similar surface. You will do what we call the running jump up and down the court. You will start off at doing 5 reps and add 1 rep each week completed. You should be at 11 reps in 6 weeks. (The running jump is when you jump as you run. So with each running step, you will also be jumping over the rope; every time you go down the full court and back, it’s one rep.)
Trust me when I say that you will be faster, quicker, and jumping higher after 6 weeks of this workout. There are also many other varieties of jumps to add, such as one footed jumps, lateral jumps, double etc.
First you will want to master these two jump exercises I’ve listed, then you can advanced to other jumps.
Outcome: More explosiveness and power
In order to be explosive and powerful, you can’t just have strong lower body and core, you must also have good balance. Lunges do all these things.
Lunges are a unilateral exercises, meaning that they train one side of your body independently from the other. In return, it helps your balance while making you explosive and powerful at the same time. Lunges will activate your glutes and your core, which are vital for producing power. Lunges are right up there with squats in regards to power production and it will help increase your vertical jump.
Lunges are an excellent exercise for the young athletes, as it is safer then weighted squats and you can do them anywhere.
Lunges can be done standing in one place or it can be done as a power walk. You can use weights such as carrying dumbbells in each hand or you can use a barbell and hold it behind your neck. Here are some tips on how to lunge correctly and a 6-8 week beginner’s workout.
- Keep your upper body straight, with your shoulders back and relaxed and chin up (pick a point to stare at in front of you so you don't keep looking down). Always engage your core.
- Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle.
- Start off doing 6 reps of lunges on each leg for 3 sets. You can stand in place or do a power walk. Each week you are to add 2 reps per leg, putting you at 18 lunges per leg in 6 weeks.
- Add 10-15lb dumbbells to each arm as you do lunges. 10 reps each leg for 3 sets. You can add 1-2 reps to each leg or you can increase the weight of the dumbbell each week completed.
I want to make it clear that any young athlete who is working hard at their craft should be commended.
With this article, I just wanted to point out that if you want to become elite and compete with the best, there's more to it than just skill training. You must take the time to increase your quickness, explosiveness, and power. In return you will have better results in your chosen sport as you will soon realize the benefits of this type of training. Good luck on your journey!
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