Youth athletics are more competitive than ever. This leads parents and coaches to look for any possible advantage to give their youth basketball players and team, priming them for success. When it comes to strength training, this subject can be a bit controversial. There are some coaches who actively keep their young players away from the weights for fear of injury. Still other coaches and parents push their kids to train hard regardless of the long term impact. So what is the truth?
As with most things with extreme perspectives, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Youth basketball players can often participate in safe, beneficial strength training programs to help their game. Here’s how.
When Should a Youth Basketball Player Start Strength Training?
According to St. Louis Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, it is safe for many children as young as seven (7) years old to begin lifting weights. Of course, nothing is ever so simple. A seven-year-old who is physically matured may be ready to begin weight training while a ten-year-old may still lack the coordination to safely perform weight training exercises.
The important message here is that each individual athlete should begin strength training when he or she is ready physically and mentally. A youth athlete will grow stronger with nutrition and sports activity. It is not absolutely necessary to begin strength training before a child is ready.
When a youth basketball player is ready to begin getting stronger in the gym, form should be priority number one. Allow youth athlete players to learn the movements with low or zero weights over time. It is important to de-emphasize the weights being lifted and emphasize safety and proper form. It is much easier to teach a young basketball player to perform an exercise correctly than it is to correct poor form down the road.
Youth Basketball Strength Training Without the Weights
Despite research showing that young athletes can handle strength training, many coaches and parents are hesitant to let players hit the weights. This is an understandable decision. Thankfully, weights are not required to get into great shape. The following is an extremely simple, full body workout that is safe for most youth basketball players to perform:
Bodyweight Lunges or squats - 10+ reps.
Push Ups - 10+ reps.
Pull Ups - 5+ reps
Repeat these exercises for five (5) rounds
This example workout can be done with anywhere between 0-60 seconds of rest between each exercise. At the end of a full round, athletes should take a full minute rest. The goal should be for youth athletes to progress by either A) doing more repetitions, B) performing more sets/rounds, or C) reducing rest time. As long as one or more of these factors is improving, the athlete has improved their strength and/or conditioning.
Off-Season Strength Training for Basketball Players
Let’s assume your young athlete is physically mature enough to lift weights and strength train within reason. The offseason is where the heavy lifting (pun most certainly intended) can be performed. Strength and conditioning should be a part of a player’s training year round, but without games and practices, overall strength can be given a greater priority in the summer months.
Each individual’s strength training goals will be different. Some youth basketball players may be looking to add overall strength and mass while others will focus more on explosion. Shaquille O'neal probably used a different strength training program than Russell Westbrook.
However, some principals hold true regardless of the minutiae. Athletes should focus on proper form, steady progress, and intensity. With this in mind, let’s examine some typical strength training routines that can be used by any basketball player to improve their strength on the hardwood.
Weight Training Routines for Basketball
There is a ton to consider when developing a strength program. There are thousands of online resources, but there is no replacement for working with a qualified and experienced coach or personal trainer. Here are some high level concepts to keep in mind when building a basketball weight training routine:
Workout Splits: “splits” are the term for what body parts will be exercised on which days. For example, a traditional bodybuilding split might entail legs, back, chest, shoulders, and arms all on different days. We are not bodybuilders. Basketball strength training is extremely effective when performed as total body routines, or “upper-lower” splits, where the upper body is worked on day one and the lower body is worked on day two.
Exercise Selection: working out seven days a week doesn’t do any good if the athlete chooses ineffective exercises. Accessories are great, but weight training programs should be centered around meat and potato lifts like barbell squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, barbell rows, bench presses, pull-ups, and dips.
Nutrition: youth athletes eat a ton. Weight training will push the quantities of food into the stratosphere. Any individual starting a strength training routine should be sure to get plenty of calories from high quality protein, fats, and carbohydrates in their diet.
Rest and Recovery: last but certainly not least comes rest and recovery. Body parts should be given a minimum of 48-72 hours between direct strength training sessions. This is particularly true for beginners and youth athletes.
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Pittsburgh-based Hustle Training is a growing startup created for the sports-driven players and coaches out there looking to up their game and maximize performance potential. Their website coupled with the mobile app makes it easy for players to improve their fundamentals and move on to master advanced techniques by providing crafted workouts and drills created by college coaches, professional players, and expert trainers.