Where Physical Therapy
Meets Strength and Conditioning

Click here to learn more

10/5/1: A Simple Starting Point for Youth Strength Training

 A question from a parent who coaches multiple sports teams, ages 13 and under:

"What are some strength training options for  my kids (who participate in 2-3 sports seasons/ year), as well as the kids I coach.  I have a fifth grade boy age 11 who plays football as well as baseball, as well as two seventh grade girls (twins) who play field hockey, basketball and softball.  I coach basketball (in house recreational and travel), baseball and softball.  Thanks!

Training younger athletes is a tricky proposition.  If they are involved in multiple sports, time is tight, as their schedules are already filled.  Combine this with schoolwork and social/ family time, and you find a kid who is going to be pretty resistant to the idea of "strength training". 


"Success Stories" like Those Seen in "Major Payne" really only happen in the movies , not on a U14 soccer team…


A few questions to ask here are: 1) Do my (my own kids, as well as the athletes I coach) buy in to my "want" for additional training? 2) Are the parents of the athletes I coach on board with additional work outside the regular practice/ game schedule? 3) Is the strength program going to take time away from my practice schedule?

That said, if the answer to the above 3 questions is "yes", a really simple program can be implemented.  The way to do this is to make sure of 3 key points before starting:

 1) The Program is Simple.

Kids and parents don't want more stuff to do, as sports and family demands are already assumed pretty high, as outlined above.  Simple exercises with simple explanations are warranted here.

2)  The Program is Doable

Allowing a young athlete to experience success in performance of a skill is the only way to go in terms having any hope with long term compliance.  Making a kid think the program is easy either in what exercises have to be performed or or much time it will take will enhance your chances of making the program stick.  

3)  The Program is Scalable

Even a simple program will be for naught if a coach/ parent doesn't have the ability to scale the program to each individual athlete.  A 70 lb. 11 year old male swimmer will probably be able to perform a chin up sooner than a 14 year old  female lb. soccer goalie.  Both should be given the tools to succeed.  


The  3 Exercises:

1)  Bodyweight Squat– Simple to do, and able to be performed anywhere.


2)  Push Up- Again, simple, portable and scalable.




3) Chin Up/Pull Up- The one "challenge" for many young athletes, we will scale this appropriately to allow compliance and success.  If a proper chin up cannot be performed, a flexed arm or dead hang can be performed for a legitimate 10-to 15 second count.



The Program

Each athlete will perform once daily, a total of:

10 squats 

5 push ups 

1 chin up 

The key to this program is the "daily" part.  Keeping the overall volume low helps fulfill our first 2 requirements- "simple" and "doable" and will be more palatable to a young trainee in maintaining compliance. One chin up (or one flexed/ dead  hang for 10-15 seconds) no big deal to most athletes, but  ten reps might as well be one hundred the same kid  .   Daily compliance allows "greasing the groove" of these basic motor patterns/ activities, which can be progressed in various ways over the athlete's lifetime as they get proficient with the basic movements. I strive for 90% compliance in such programs, so in one year a person can take 37 days off from the program. 

Rounding up to 40 days off  (roughly 3 per month) makes it more palatable to all parties involved (athletes and parents).  In the course of a year, assuming 90% compliance, a young athlete will have performed:

3,250 squats

1,625 push ups

325 chin ups (or over 3,500 seconds worth of flexed/ dead hanging). 

You are simply having the young athlete train a "strength skill" on a daily basis, much like swinging a bat, shooting a free throw, or dribbling a soccer ball.  Not bad, considering the alternative- zero, zero and zero for all three exercises, at ages where establishing great strength specific motor patterns can pay huge dividends.

The Progression

If your young athlete(s) are motivated to do more, there are several options.  You can double the numbers of each exercise, so now the athlete is performing 20 squats, 10 push ups and 2 chin ups (or 2 sets for flexed arm/ dead hang). Another more advanced progression I like to perform after ~3-6 months of consistent (90% compliance) 10/5/1 performance:

30 squats

10 Push Ups

6 Chin Ups

Again, this is a daily progression, shooting for 90% compliance. Laying it out to make it "doable" might look something like this:

15 Squats (1 min. rest) – 2 chin ups (30 seconds rest) – 5 push ups (1 min. rest) – 2 chin ups (30 seconds rest) – 5 push ups (1 min.  rest)  -2 chin ups (30 seconds rest) -15 squats.

Doing the math, our young athlete, in one year would perform:

9,750 squats

3,250 push ups

1,950 chin ups. 

This is pretty significant, especially for a young trainee over the course of a year.  The overzealous parent and/or coach would be wise to see if their athlete can successfully handle the 10/5/1 progression for 1-2 months prior to advancing.

Who This is  Is For:

The young athlete who:1) plays multiple sports, in multiple seasons. 2)  who hasn't really participated in any "formal" strength and conditioning in the past. 3) who would probably be overwhelmed with anything more complicated.

Who This Isn't Probably For: 

A young athlete with significant experience in bodyweight training (i.e. a gymnast or wrestler) may not benefit from this type of program,as basic and advanced bodyweight strength movements are a significant part of these programs.  Also, anyone who is involved in a more formal prolonged  training program with a competent performance coach may not need a daily program.  However, most young athletes don't fall into this category, so daily practice in these basic movements will benefit them greatly.

What Happens After A Year or Two?

Your young athlete(s) will have "greased the groove" for three fundamental strength patterns, and should be ready for more aggressive loading parameters and exercise.  My advice is to first get to the one year mark and see what positive changes have occured in the athletes you coach- they should be stronger and more stable in fundamental stances and quicker with dynamic movements. They should also be more disciplined and confident, as such a program builds a positive kinesthetic habit gradually over time. 









Video Tutorial-Scapular Depression with Shoulder Extension

Filed under: Uncategorized — Shon @ 1:30 pm December 15, 2011

One of my favorite exercises for upper quarter (shoulder, cervical spine and thoracic spine) dysfunction is scapular depression with shoulder (glenohumeral) extension.  In cases of shoulder impingement, there is almost always a component of scapular dyskinesia, or poor scapular positioning.  Ben Kibler, M.D., one of the pioneering researchers in the area of the scapula, stated here that the prevalence of scapular dyskinesia is 100% in cases of shoulder instability and 94% in instances of labral tears.

Why is my bias toward scapular depression?  First, it is generally non-provocative, as you aren't moving toward glenohumeral elevation.  In cases of impingement, I want to establish exercises and activities that don't provoke symptoms while giving the patient something constructive to do as well.  "Getting back" scapular control with this exercise allows both things to happen pretty seamlessly. 

Second, scapular depression fosters thoracic extension more so than the other scapular exercises.  Thoracic extension goes hand in hand with scapular mobility, and I don't feel you can optimize one without the other. 

Third, with scapular depression, upper trapezius activation/ compensation is limited.  Yes, some upper trapezius is needed in normal shoulder function, but if we are dealing with "abnormal", then upper traps need to be subdued a bit.  Most shoulder and neck patients I see have a difficult time disassociating upper trapezius from middle and lower trapezius activity; this exercise sets the stage for the upper traps to "step off" a bit.

Fourth, as you see in the video, the exercise is easily scaled.  The arm serves as the "weight" the scapular depressors lift; if the demand is too high on the depressors, then the position of the arm can be accommodated until they can meet the demand.

Does this mean I don't work on other scapular exercises?  No way!  I just feel this exercise sets the stage for patient comfort, success in an important movement pattern, as well as disassociation between upper trapezius and middle/ lower trapezius activity.  It is just one activity in a "parts to a whole" approach to upper quarter dysfunction.  Enjoy the video!




Farmer’s Walk Forerunners

Filed under: Exercise Instruction,Exercise Technique,Random,Strength Training,Uncategorized — Shon @ 1:08 pm December 12, 2011

First, thanks to everyone on the positive feedback related to my first published T-nation article, "Quantifying the Farmer's Walk".  Again, the purpose of the article was to give some options that challenge core stability in a more biomechanically friendly way during everyday training.  It was obviously not meant to supplant the traditional Farmer's Walk as a test of strength endurance, but to serve as a way to challenge frontal/saggital plane stability while moving through space. 

I don't write about or espouse the virtues of an exercise, drill or physical therapy intervention unless I have used it myself, and the variations I covered have been implemented with patients, training clients and athletes very successfully.  I'm no historian when it comes to the Farmer's Walk, but I am approaching 30 years as a traditional karateka; Farmer's Walk variations (with large ceramic pots known as "Nigiri Game") have been used for a long time in traditional Okinawan karate systems such as Uechi Ryu and Goju Ryu as Gushi sensei demonstrates below: 


Shinyu Gushi going old school with Nigiri Game.  I think I'll pass on fighting him…

Actually Nigiri Game is only a small part of Okinawan karate's "Hojo Undo", or supplementary exercises.  Hojo Undo is basically the Okinawan equivalent of GPP and/or SPP, utilizing paddocks, clay jars, and even rudimentary dumbbells and barbells integrated with traditional stance work and whole body isometrics, such as seen in "Sanchin" kata. 

Hojo Undo implements in good working order at the Higaonna Dojo.   

Getting it done with the Chi-Shi

I have read several interviews with Mr. Gushi (pictured above) and he states he never trained with weights.  Now, we know physiologically and biomechanically that there is massive co-contraction, irradiation, overload and strength being built in the carry performed above, but I don't think I would really get into a debate  with sensei whether or not we were "weight training" with such implements.  Here is a more recent picture that I stumbled upon of Gushi sensei in his late 60's:




Contemplating Age 70 While Simultaneously Opening Up a Can of Whoop Ass!


I think a steady diet of what he is doing is better than 90% of what is being done most other gyms.  I also think he probably doesn't have any problems with frontal plane stability, hip mobility or poor glute function.  My guess is that his mid and low traps are well developed, and I bet he never did a proper "YTWL" in his life. 

Again, it goes to show that a mix of basic, biomechanically correct, physiologically taxing training  can bring up just about any weak point that a person has, and that what is perceived as new isn't actually so new. 


Teaching the Squat

Filed under: Case Studies,Exercise Instruction,Exercise Progression,Exercise Technique,Squatting — Shon @ 2:16 pm December 6, 2011

An easy way to get a training client or patient to understand the concept of thesquat/  hip hinge is to use a couple of mini hurdles in front of the shins to provide an "environmental constraint" (motor learning speak) to movement.  Maintaining the "vertical shin" position allows more hinge action at the hips, and also lets us cue in good trunk stabilization.  Below are two examples; one unloaded as well as one with a little bit of load:



Note that I use a dowel to maintain a neutral and stable torso  while hinging at the hips.  Also note the increased box height with and Airex and Nautilus pad to decrease forward lean.  I also use the classic Westside "spread the floor-push out your knees" cueing to maximize gluteal firing posterior chain activation.  This video was taken within the first two or three minutes that the client learned the exercise. 

Below, we add some load with a more experienced (but still new) trainee.  Again, the hurdle placement proves invaluable to keep the shins vertical and knees apart:


In this case, this young athlete had been training with me for about three months.  The first progression was with the dowel and hurdles, progressing to bilateral kettlebells/ hurdles, and then the straight bar (with hurdles).  I have loaded her with a front squat as well; this particular day we happened to use a straight bar.

I do eventually abandon the hurdles, but if mechanics "go south" as load increases, I quickly break them out again to get form in line. 

Key Points:

1) The top of the hurdle should be to the level of the tibial tuberosity.  The tibial tuberosity is more sensitive to touch than other parts of the shin, and provides a great tactile cue for the patient/ client.

The tibial tuberosity-a great tactile cue -also hurts pretty bad when you bang it into a coffee table

2) A spotter is needed to place the hurdles when using a bar.  Note in the second video, I have someone take the hurdles away before re-racking.  Walking out a loaded bar while stepping over hurdles is a recipe for disaster along the lines of squatting on a Bosu Ball. 

3) Hurdles are generally parallel to the ASIS of the pelvis, the bar, or both.  I am a fan of symmetry, and straight line hurdles subliminally get the trainee to think "straight/ tight" with technique.

4) A box isn't always needed.  Early in the progression, the box obviously helps teach the hinge, gluteal/ hamstring activation, and proprioception/ depth.  However, like training wheels on a bike, you eventually remove this prop, as the trainee becomes more confident/ capable and comfortable with the technique and load.  







Positive Posture Changes-Chronic and Acute

Filed under: Case Studies,Posture,Uncategorized — Shon @ 7:16 pm December 1, 2011


Appropriate posture is the foundation for both upper and lower quarter functional mobility.  If you are reading this, chances are you already know this, either as a professional or as a patient.  The question is how quickly can we affect changes with our people, both in chronic, long standing cases as well as acute changes from traumatic injuries.   

Recently, I had the chance to take a few "before  and after" pictures of a few pateints.  Below is a District level high school cross country athlete who I saw for 10 visits this fall for a diagnosis of neck strain.  What we were really dealing with was a combination of  Janda's  upper and lower crossed syndrome (a quick review: upper crossed syndrome-weak deep neck flexors, overactive upper trapezius/ levator scapula, weakened sccapular depressors; lower crossed syndrome-.weak, underactive gluteals and abdominals, tight illiopsoas and erector spinae).   

The picture on the left is his first visit, while the picture on the right is at the time of his last visit:

 As you can see, there are pretty significant changes.  Lower cervical extension is better, as is thoracic extension, both passively and actively.  The thoracic spine being more upright allows a better "table" for the head and cervical spine to sit on.  His rounded shoulder position is improved by virtue of improved scapular retracion; scapular retraction is better just as a result of thoracic extension being improved. 

Just as impressive are the changes in lumbopelvic posture:

On the left (obviously, the first visit) you can see the ASIS/PSIS relationship as marked by the tape.  Arms overhead didn't help this (but were necessicary to capture the picture), as this further accentuated his lordosis secondary to his tight thoracic spine dragging his lumbar spine and pelvis into further extension.  On the right side, not only is lumbopelvic positioning more ideal, with a beautiful neutral spine posture, but the "arms overhead" position isn't a problem anymore because thoracic extension is also much better, leading indirectly to improved scapular and glenohumeral mobility. 

How did we achieve these changes?  Primarily with low load prolonged postural stretching of the thoracic spine into extension, improving mobility of lower cervical extension with concurrent upper cervical flexion,, as well as a bunch of time spent showing him "pelvis neutral" along with low load stretching of the psoas and rectus femoris.  Many of these activities can be performed concurrently, once the patient understands what is expected. 

This athlete has a bit more work to do independantly, namely get stronger.  He has done limited weight training activities with his cross country team, but hasn't performed what I would consider "proper" strength work yet.


Another patient presented recently after suffering a whiplash injury.  Below are "before"  pictures from his first visit:  

Following are pictures taken immediately afer his first  visit.  We did only low load thoracic/ cervical  passive positioning this visit to achieve these changes. You can see significantly less activity in the upper trapezius and levator scapula, as well as decreased sternocleidomastoid activity.  Needless to say, he felt a whole bunch better, at least for the first few hours post treatment.

In subsequent visits, we did hone in on more specific soft tissue work to the left upper quarter, as the left levator and rhomboid was significantly flared up.  You can also see winging of the left scapula, which we addressed aggressively with high set (10/ session) serratus activation work (30 seconds per repetition).  His levator/upper trapezius pain impairments are more than likely tied to his serratus dysfunction, as the scapula acts as a "roundhouse" for shoulder function with many significant competing vectors of pull (reference Anatomy Trains, specifically page 164 to see the relationship between serratus anterior and the rhomboids).  As his serratus improves, I believe his rhomboids and levator will improve as well.

The long term key with him is to make sure that chronic adaptations never take hold, or he may develop an upper crossed pattern.  Continued targeted soft tissue therapy, appropriate low load postural stretching, activation and strengthening of  underactive and weak musculature should be the ticket to achieving a long term improvement in his upper quarter posture.