The Basics of Developing Strength in Young Athletes

There is no need to overcomplicate things. There is no such thing as perfection, only perfect effort - and this could not spring any truer than within strength and conditioning training. The results you get come from the effort you invest, not from the # of sets and reps you use...

It was early 2010. I was on the uphill after my battle with anorexia, depression, and orthorexia, and still coming to grips with my weakened mindset

At the time I was training out of my house. I had a squat rack, an adjustable bench, a pull-up rig, and 185kg worth of weights. I was doing my squats, pulls, rows, presses, and chins - but I was far from what I wanted to become and where I am now

I was deep into research and learning all I could from the greats about how to get stronger, and to my dismay, they were all saying similar, yet completely different things. It was a minefield of information that left me completely overwhelmed

There were varying rep schemes. Varying intensities. Various methodologies. And on the outer surface, they all seemed so different. What’s a teen to do in this scenario

And then one day, a Zach Even-Esh article showed me the light. He gave it to me straight, and laid it all out in the open - none of that stuff mattered, it’s not rocket science. And this philosophy he preached is at the core of our long-term development programming with all of our young athlete’s and adolescents

This is the mindset & principle that’s helped Hayden add 60kg to his squat in 12weeks, has seen 14yr old Bray squat and deadlift 100kg+ with great form, and Aphra squat + deadlift 100kg + whilst still becoming more powerful and explosive to help her gymnastics

Hell, it’s what’s helping Mag & Cam lose a ton of weight, and become more athletic, stronger, and powerful too

Keep It Simple

Adolescents and Young Athlete’s have a very young training age, and as such, they require simplicity. For strength purposes, depending on the amount of volume in their sport-specific training, at The Academy use either a simple 3x3, 3x5 or 6x6 protocol once technique has become automatic for our clients

That’s it. We pick one style for each heavy, compound lift that will be focused on that day, and then stick with it for however long that athlete’s individualised block of training goes for. We only ever change one variable at a time, generally the weight, adding a few small kilo’s every session

We have found throughout the years of training friends, friends-of-friends, and ourselves, that this style or rep/set scheme works wonders. The one we choose depends on the athlete, their goal, and their sport-specific training

For example, Bray first came to The Academy in the middle of his “offseason” period. He could make it into training three days a week, and had limited other activities on, so we began him with a simple 3 x 5 on squats every day he trained. We began with 40kg on the bar (Bray already had a solid technique foundation), and within 4 weeks, he hit 67.5kg x 5 x 3 (15 total reps) on his squats. We then had two weeks before his pre-season training began, so we dropped the weight a little and increased his volume to 60kg x 6 x 6, again, adding a small amount of weight each session - which saw him increase to 75kg x 6 x 6 (36 total reps). Now that he is deep into his pre-season and almost in-season, all volume has been dropped and the intensity has increased, and he squats 1 set of 6 once to twice a week 

Coaches Note: he just squatted 100kg x 6 with amazing form

That’s an example of how simple developing strength is in young athletes. Bray now has a solid foundation to build upon, and with great programming during season to maintain what’s been built, he will only going on to continually improve


Biggest Takeaways:

- Pick a big, compound lift to focus on and master technique first and foremost
- Choose a low to moderate rep/set scheme and depending on sport specific activities, choose the # of sessions per week to perform the lift
- If all sets and reps are completed with good form, increase the weight slightly (we like 2.5kg) each session
- Change the rep/set scheme or number of days with the athlete’s changing sport-specific training

Nick Maier