I like to keep a few things in mind when training junior athletes…
1. Keep the reps as close as you can to 5.
This is the sweet spot for strength and muscle development. 5 is also a manageable number - meaning they can think about each rep and work on technique.
2. Don’t coach too much.
Junior athletes often resemble bambi on ice when they first start lifting. They’re learning their body. Some reps will suck. Let them feel out their body and how they can move. Coaching them hard on every single rep leads to analysis paralysis and is counterproductive.
3. Stick to the big 5.
Push, pull, hinge, squat, loaded carry. Stick to dumbbells, kettlebells and bodyweight initially. I’ve found that using weights can help teach the movement pattern faster than only sticking to bodyweight early. Exercise like the goblet squat and dumbbell bench work well here. Once they’re efficient, don’t be afraid to throw a barbell in there.
4. Don’t bombard them with volume.
They’re probably training and competing in 1-3 other sports outside the gym. Stick to 5 reps, 3-5 sets, and 2-4 lifts a session.
5. Educate them on energy system development.
Most junior sports coaches will tell their athletes to go and run 7-8km. While it’s better than nothing it’s not the most effective use of time. They’re probably getting enough “k’s in the legs” from sports. Spend time off the legs hitting max or high-intensity intervals. We like doing assault bike sprints for 5 to 15 seconds with a full recovery - 45 seconds or more - and repeat for 10-20 minutes.
6. Pull them back from lifting too heavy.
They should rarely grind out reps until they’ve had a few years of consistent experience in the gym. Move fast. Move efficiently.
7. Don’t be afraid to double up in one day.
Our juniors often will hit the gym the morning of or just before their skills training. If you’re doing appropriate volume, this isn’t an issue.
It wouldn’t be a junior training post if I didn’t mention the stunted growth myth. Lifting weights won’t stunt a kids growth. Holding them back from weights just stunts their potential.