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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why do teen athletes need more muscle?

Teenagers thrive on the basics.

Below is an article that I ran across recently. The author makes an argument for training teenagers. While I might state some things differently and I would certainly program differently, there is also much that I can support in what he says. I do not agree that speed and agility are only 20% of the way to reaching a high level of performance, but I do agree that strength is the foundation of both speed and power. I also agree that high school age athletes, male and female, do best on a few basic multi-joint exercises. Of course this is not new or innovative. Smart coaches have known this since at least the 1960's and I am sure before that. (though I was not around to confirm it.) In 2014 every college and university has extensive training facilities and programs. At the high school level, as well, it is a rare school now that does not have a weight room of some sort ranging from amazing to dangerous. The downside though, is that there are no enforceable standards of what is a reasonable or effective program and, of course that leaves it wide open for a variety of programs and methods, some of which are effective and some that qualify as malpractice.


As a strength and conditioning coach, and trainer who has been working in the fitness field for many years, I can sometimes overlook some of the basic principles when discussing my training philosophy with parents or athletes. I’ve realized one of the most overlooked topics is muscle and why it’s needed, how to get it, and how much to build.

Once an athlete gets to the age of hormonal change, or puberty, there is a prime environment for muscle growth and strength gain. This crucial hormonal window (usually ages 14 to 18) must be taken advantage of in the most efficient way possible. But the question remains: why should more muscle and more strength be the number one training goal for these high school athletes?

First, more muscle means more force production. Force production is a way of saying strength. When you increase the size of a muscle, it is able to contract with more efficiency and use more muscle fibers to complete the contraction, thus producing more force (strength). In almost every example, more muscle on an athlete results in more strength, and more power (when trained properly), as the athlete can generate many more pounds of force with that additional 20 to 50 pounds of extra muscle mass on the skeletal frame.

Second, speed and agility work will only take an athlete around 20 percent of the way. And that is probably an overestimation. If all an athlete has done in his or her training career is sprints, sprint drills, cone drills, and footwork, then his or her ability to produce force is extremely limited. This type of athlete is primed for more power and explosion after a 6 to 12 month program of muscle and strength gain. Strength and muscle is the underlying common denominator amongst all upper echelon athletes of sports that require strength and muscle (football, wrestling, baseball, softball, basketball, hockey, volleyball, gymnastics) to excel. So why not start training for it when an athlete is 14 or 15 years old? Let’s move away from excessive speed work and start doing what has always worked: building strength and muscle.

Hopefully, I have presented a solid argument for the idea that more muscle is beneficial to a teen athlete. The next question that comes to mind is, how does a teen athlete build this muscle. I have covered this in great detail in the last two articles, but it basically comes down to calories, basic strength exercises and constant progression. Many calories need to be consumed in order to help a teenager with a roaring metabolism gain weight. Also, heavy strength training on these movements should be performed:

Trap bar deadlifts
Barbell squats
Clean and presses
Power cleans or high pulls
Pull ups
Rows
Dips
These are the exercises that always have and always will help to add mountains of muscle onto a skinny frame, with the concepts of constant progressive overload (adding weight to the bar all the time) and high calories added in.

As far as how much muscle to build? The average Major League Baseball player is 73.5” and 190 pounds. The average National Hockey League athlete is 73.3” and 204 pounds. The National Football League has many varying positions that require different body frames making it difficult to get an average. Basically, we can make a realistic goal to get a teenage athlete in a certain sport up to the average weight of a professional for that sport, and produce as much strength and power in the process. This will give this high school athlete the very best chance to hit the ball farther, run faster, and be more explosive. It could mean the difference between playing on first string or second string, and receiving a college scholarship or not receiving a college scholarship.

And while these height and weight numbers represent male athletes, females need not be excluded from this discussion. Female athletes do not have the necessary hormonal environment to pack on many pounds of muscle tissue (not nearly as much as men). However, they greatly benefit from adding muscle tissue as well. Female athletes need to understand that strong is the new skinny, and to have a strong, muscular, feminine physique, through proper muscle and strength building, will greatly enhance their athletic careers and help prevent injuries.

The Takeaway: Why not give a teenage athlete every opportunity to be as explosive as he or she can possibly be? If they are serious about taking their play to the next level, then it might be time to give real consideration to muscle and strength gain – it just might extend their career four years or beyond.


Matt Gallagher is the Fitness Director at MFC Sports Performance in Darien, which specializes in functional training for both adults and younger athletes. You can reach Matt by emailing him at Matt@MFCSportsPerformance.com
It goes without saying that Teen girls thrive on the basics as well.
Not to mention kids too!

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