A three part series dedicated to the discussion of long-term athletic development for athletes and coaches. Part two covers the importance of developing movement, energy systems, and strength for long-term athletic development.
As a review, long-term athletic development (LTAD) refers to the progressive development of on- and off-field skill, strength, speed, and movement over time in order to enhance performance and growth, and decrease risk of injury. If you read part one of this series, we discussed the overarching principle of why LTAD is advantageous for coaches, athletes, and parents. Four key principles of long-term athletic development are movement patterning and variability, energy systems development, strength development, and managing stress, all of which will be discussed here in part two.
Movement Patterning and Variability
Within the discussion of movement patterning, we are talking about the learning and development of gross motor skills to be able to efficiently move, position, and load to transfer success from the training floor to the field and/or court. What this ultimately means is that stacking “cool”, advanced exercises on top of dysfunctions or having an imbalance between sport, strength and conditioning, and overall stress will leave us with a sub-optimal foundation to develop from. There should and always be a foundation for the athlete to successfully grow from. What does that foundation look like? A movement foundation consisting of developing the prime movement patterns: squat, hinge, horizontal press/pull, vertical press/pull, ground base core work, and locomotion as it pertains to sport.
It is also imperative to provide the athlete with as much movement variability in comparison to their sport at times. If an athlete is constantly overloaded in the transverse plane with rotation, for example a baseball player, then give them some work in the sagittal and frontal planes. This concept can hold true especially during the in-season for an athlete. I wouldn't want to necessarily overload them with what they're already receiving enough input from. Acquiring other skills and variability will decrease risk of injury, improve strength, and reduce stagnation.
Energy Systems Development
Let’s be honest. The pyramids were not built from the top down. Neither are our energy systems. Therefore, athletes should condition themselves the right way in order to effectively build their energy systems. No more running athletes into the ground with countless suicides or sprints on the first day of practice or at the end of every practice. If you were ever an athlete, I am sure you remember what that felt like. Ultimately, there is a better way to build a more efficient athlete. Here are three nuggets when it comes to developing the energy systems of an athlete:
Each sport lies somewhere on the “Power/Capacity” continuum, meaning, each sport relies on different amounts of power output and capacity or duration. For example, Football and Baseball are high on the power side and low on the capacity/duration side, all the while, Soccer would certainly have power involved but be high on the capacity/duration side of the continuum. Therefore, capacity based athletes should spend most of their time in practice or training fine tuning their aerobic system with some higher intensity power work mixed in time from time. On the flip side, for power based athletes, an aerobic foundation needs to be built earlier in the season or off-season before working on developing the higher intensity energy systems such as the glycolytic or ATP-PC systems to develop power. Overall, the message is we can’t just go balls to the wall with athletes all the time. There needs to be structure and variability in order for the athlete to develop and not wear down. Having the energy systems all working well with one another will help the athlete be able to develop and train at higher levels as they age and progress.
Most youth athletes spend all of their time crushing skill work, speed work, skill work, speed work, skill work, skill work, skill work. Can you see where I am going with this?
Young athletes spend the majority of their time forming skills in practice and competition, leaving them with minimal exposure to strength development to go with it. The stronger an athlete can get in comparison to their body weight, the more potential they have to be able to be faster by applying and absorbing force better and the healthier they can ultimately be. The health component being critical here. Strength training helps athletes maximize force production, improve their capacity to withstand forces, and reduce stress/load related and soft tissue injuries.
Now, if an athlete is still in early development stages or is an older athlete who doesn’t have a training background/foundation, heavier loading should be reserved for once a solid foundation is formed. Athletes at these ages are still learning how to move without drunkenly tripping over their shoelaces. Therefore, the majority of loading should be done with the intent of developing a foundation of strength and movement to build upon. A big thing young athletes don’t know how to do, is create stiffness and appropriate joint angles in order to adequately apply and handle force. The strength and speed development work performed should do exactly that, reinforce good movement, teach how to create stiffness, and apply/absorb force.
Low level strength and speed exercises that were previously mentioned are a great starting spot that can pay huge dividends in the long run. Even high-level athletes can and should mix in this type of work on the regular in order to maintain good, habitual movement. In the grand scheme of things, if the goal is to develop the athlete overall, then a foundation of strength and speed should be built within the proper limits to eventually build them into an all-star. The athletes who skip this important strength development work, skip to advanced training too soon, or train randomly are the ones that end up missing the bigger picture.
With sport now being a year round endeavor and athletes certain to experience loading from competition, practice, and training, managing stress is a critical factor in athlete success. Managing intensity and volume across competition, practice, and training should be optimized in order to ensure adaptation and avoid overtraining or eventual burnout. Planning high-low periods, off periods, and dedicating time to well-organized strength and conditioning can help ensure long term stress management. Other key factors such as nutrition and sleep hygiene are also vital for athlete development.
What’s to Come
Part three will cover the importance of mobility, stability, nutrition, sleep hygiene, recovery, and how they all fit into the equation of long-term athletic development.
A three-part series dedicated to the discussion of long-term athletic development for athletes and coaches. Athletes and new lifters are often being pushed too hard, too fast. What actually goes into training, coaching, and developing an athlete or lifter from young/novice trainee to a superstar?
People often ask me why I became a strength and conditioning coach. Now, I could answer that question one of two ways. One, I could simply state that I wanted to help people. Two, I could tell them the real answer, being, I was an athlete who specialized early, which then brought on the feelings of constantly being burnt out and always being injured. This led me to ending my basketball playing career in college way sooner than I had ever hoped. Truth be told, I wanted to help athletes and others from all walks not make the same mistakes that I made when I was a high-level athlete.
The story is all too familiar these days. Athletes all over the place are specializing in sports at a younger and younger age by the year, all the while coaches and parents may be one of several driving factors to do so. Gone are the days where each season would bring a new sport to compete in. Now, there are indoor and outdoor leagues, clinics, practices, and training for the athlete to compete year-round. Along with this comes the fear that if the athlete doesn’t compete in said sport year-round like the rest of the kids, then they will ultimately fall behind. The associated risks with this is the constant repetitiveness and volume of the same movement patterns and loading year-round to a body that is still developing. This leads an athlete to developing imbalances from being over-developed in one area and under-developed in another, which then ultimately leads to injury. Take a youth baseball pitcher for example. The pitcher is standing on the mound throwing for X amount of games, practices, and training sessions each week. Instead of for a season of a few months and then giving the shoulder and elbow time to recover while moving to a different sport or rest. Instead, this is being done for 12 months on the year. Often times, without any other sport or strength training to accommodate. This is a big reason why according to Dr. James Andrews, the amount of Tommy John and shoulder surgeries performed on 13-19 year olds has increased seven-fold since 2000. Now, 13-19 year olds are the most common age range these surgeries are being performed on. All of which are injuries brought upon by overuse. Now, this can happen with any sport and injury, however overall, early specialization can lead to the creation of avoidable imbalances and overloading which may lead to injury, overuse, or burn out.
This article is not to fear monger you as an athlete, coach, parent, or new fitness enthusiast. This series is only serving to help shed a greater amount of light on the concept of long-term athletic development (LTAD). LTAD refers to the progressive development of on- and off-field skill, strength, speed, and movement over time in order to enhance performance and growth, and mitigate risk of injury.
What Goes into Long-Term Athletic Development?
1. Movement Patterning and Movement Variability
Before we learn how to walk, we crawl. Before we learn how to jump, we squat. The same goes for any advanced skill. While we are always so focused on the end game and never appreciate the processes that actually get us to the end result. Athletes, some parents, and some coaches always want to push or jump straight to fancy, intense training. Could we jump straight to little Johnny throwing a bar on his back or performing turbo x3000 (there isn’t actually an exercise with that name, but if there was, I’m sure it would be awesome)? Yes. Will that get us to a good point? Probably not.
One of the primary roles for a strength and conditioning coach is to teach their athlete how to efficiently move, position, and load in order to increase strength, speed, deceleration, and reduce risk of injury. Movement patterning allows us to develop the gross motor skills required to transfer success to the field or court. Part two of this series will discuss how to optimally develop, periodize, and vary movement for long-term success.
2. Energy Systems Development
If you have reported to the first day of practice for any sport, I am sure you know or remember what it feels like to rapidly perform all out sprints or suicides until you’re on the verge of puking. Not only does this type of approach not help the athlete develop their conditioning the right way, it can also quickly lead to fatigue and injury.
Our energy systems work like a house. At each level of our house we have different energy systems at play in order to match the varying demands of the sports intensity or pace. If we have certain energy systems overpowering others, our house will collapse. In part two we will discuss how to optimally develop and train our aerobic, lactic, and alactic systems to maximize conditioning and performance in the sense of LTAD.
Strength is a big part of the LTAD equation. Strength ultimately allows us to express and absorb force. The stronger one becomes, the faster, more agile, and healthy they can be. Part two of this series will discuss how to train to maximally develop strength.
4. Mobility and Stability
Maintaining mobility and stability as an athlete grows and adapts is crucial in order limit the risk of injury as age and competition level increases. As an athlete expresses a feature, skill, or movement within their sport, there is always a level of mobility and stability required to carry the said action. Mobility and stability keeps our joints and tissue healthy.
Nutrition is all about fueling the body properly and enough in order to recover and ultimately adapt from the stresses of training, practice, and competition. Wilt Chamberlain used to drink Sprite on the sidelines. Sadly, if we want to have long-term success, we can’t all be like Wilt.
More is not always better. If we want to be able to see adaptations from training, we need to be able to recover. If recovery is bad, then the risk of overtraining, fatigue, and injury increases. In order to maximize recovery, we need factors such as sleep hygiene, nutrition, and stress reduction techniques to work together to optimally control the total amount of stress being placed on the body.
Make sure to check out part two of this series to learn how to maximize the development of movement patterning and variability, energy systems, and strength for long-term success. In part three we will cover the best practices for developing mobility and stability, nutritional health, and recovery for LTAD.