Systematic Core Training for the Junior Athlete

I was one of the speakers at the Building a Better Athlete Summit: A Strength and Conditioning Summit for Middle & High School Coaches and Personal Trainers at the Park School in Brookline this past weekend. Mike Reinold, Jen Brickey and Susan Altman joined me as presenters. Mike’s session was Preventing Injuries and Enhancing Performance in Overhead Athletes, Jen spoke on Training the Female Athlete and Susan’s topic was Fueling the Athlete.

My session was titled Systematic Core Training for the Junior Athlete. Low back pain might not be as prevalent in the youth population, but dysfunction in the core region of the body most certainly is. From growth spurts, to poor and prolonged sitting posture in school, to nutritional triggers to over and under training there are many factors that can prevent the center of a young person’s body from working optimally.
Some challenges exist when programming for the junior client, especially if they are working in groups instead of 1:1. Complicated techniques are often ineffective. Try and keep things simple and fun, probably good advice for working with the adult population too. I also find that the younger athletes are more run down at the end of the school day compared to adults at the end of the work day. Maybe it is a nutritional deficit or just the fact that they are kids and need some down time.
I find better results easing into the program with some Self Myofascial Release (SMR), flexibility
or diaphragmatic breathing. However there are the times when working with groups of 8-12 year olds that I need to get them moving ASAP for everyone’s sanity. Scientific program design gets bent a bit when 15 hyper tennis players wound up from a long day at school and a hard session on court get dumped into your lap for some fitness training. I can see why my old coaches or P.E. teachers made us take the seemingly arbitrary “lap”. I know they weren’t texting, tweeting or posting pics on Instagram. They were probably just taking a deep breathe and trying to settle us down a bit.
Ideally I follow this flow:
1-SMR
2-Static Stretching/Mobility
3-Core Stability
4-Dynamic Flexibility and then either SAQ, Conditioning or Resistance Training, sometimes all three depending on the situation.
The basics work. Teaching pelvic tilts, finding neutral, creating congruity between the pelvis and the ribcage and then practicing disassociating the; spine from the pelvis, the pelvis from the hip, the spine from the humerus and the humerus from the scapulae from different positions with progressive acute variables is the plan.
Acute variables can be sets, reps, rest, tempo, recovery etc.
Body positions can include; prone, supine, quadruped, 1/2 kneeling, tall kneeling, split stance, standing and single leg.
Proprioceptive modalities (balance toys) can be used judiciously. Form and technique dictate all. If there is a slight wiggle, shaking, learning or subtle instability let the athlete continue to learn. If they are flailing or can not can control of their pelvis, ribs etc. regress the exercise.
Once there has been some neuromuscular “uptake” and activation, you can improve endurance, strength and conditioning of the core. Then you can get them moving, lifting and training with greater efficiency and lower risk of injury.
Thanks for reading!
Eric Beard
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