Strength and Conditioning for Youth Football Players
By Anthony Dugarte, M.D., C.S.C.S.
Strength and conditioning has always been a large part of what players utilize to prepare for a football season. There is now so much more available compared to past decades where the focus was placed on barbells, free weights, and nautilus equipment. Advances in knowledge and technology have allowed for the size, strength, and speed of athletes at virtually every position group to be at all-time highs. Athletes today look very different from their early counterparts.
How Do College and Professional Athletes Become So Much Bigger, Faster, and Stronger?
Football is a sport that requires a great deal of time and dedication. There are many factors that go into looking like the players that you see on TV.
Genetics plays a large role. What we have inherited from our parents is essentially “set in stone”. But fret not, you don’t have to be 6’8” to excel in football.
Diet is another key factor that helps optimize an athlete’s performance. A left tackle that is 6’6” tall and weighs in at 320lbs, likely does not have the same diet as the kicker. Furthermore, Tony Gonzalez altered his diet later in his career to a primarily plant based one. As a young athlete, there is no special plan you need to follow. Your favorite athlete didn’t have a special diet when he was 10. Simply maintaining a balanced diet and ensuring you have enough fuel for activity is what is important.
Football players spend countless hours, especially in the offseason, training to help better their physical performance. They sprint, jog, jump, lift free-weights and kettle bells, throw medicine balls, flip tires, push cars, drag sleds…the list goes on.
If I Shouldn’t Train Like a Pro, How Should I Train?
Youth athletes are still growing. Their muscles and bones, as well as the tendons and ligaments that hold them together, have not reached maturity. Resistance training, if supervised and done properly, can be safe. However, it is not necessary, nor is any type of strength program typical in kids younger than high school age.
Being young and active, year round, is more than enough physical training for an upcoming football season. However, there are programs children and adolescents can utilize to enjoy further strength and endurance gains beyond what is expected of free-playing, basketball practice, baseball games, riding bicycles, etc. Here is an example of one:
Youth Football Strength and Conditioning Program:
- High Knees
- Mountain Climbers
- Tuck Jumps
Perform each exercise for 20 – 45 seconds, depending on skill level, in succession.
Rest for 30 seconds – 2 minutes after each cycle through the circuit. Repeat circuit 2-5 times through, 2-3 days each week, resting a full day between each.
High knees are performed by jogging in place and driving each knee up towards the chest. Remember to use a reciprocal arm swing as you do during a sprint.
Push-ups can easily be altered based on your skill level. Performing them against a wall, then on a bench or stairs, then on your knees, and finally in the traditional manner, is a great way to progress.
Mountain climbers are performed by starting in the traditional push-up position, and alternating driving each foot forward towards your hands. Again, this can be adjusted by elevating your hands on a chair until comfortable performing on the ground.
Pull-ups require a sturdy pull-up bar or monkey bars. If one repetition cannot be completed, simply hang with your head as close to above the bar as possible can help build strength.
Tuck jumps are performed by jumping in place and bringing both knees up to your chest. Repeat immediately upon landing.
Sit-ups can be done with feet supported to make them easier.
These strength and conditioning exercises represent or more natural way to train young athletes, without the worry of inappropriately stressing growing muscle and bones with heavy weights. Furthermore, it helps develop total body strength and cardiovascular endurance simultaneously. They mimic some of the movements needed on the football field and can be interchangeable with other activities like jumping jacks, short sprints, broad jumps, etc.