During any lockdown, with school and clubs either cancelled or going online, many athletes can lack for a bit of structure and/or become a bit disillusioned with any training. I therefore thought it might be beneficial to provide a few thoughts how a youth athlete (c.10-14 yrs) programme might be structured during this period.
A couple of caveats, this is quite a generic programme and would perhaps tailor it slightly according to the athlete, time of the year and if there is any competition on the horizon. I have outlined three sessions a week but this could be spread over 10 days or alternatively choose two sessions/week and alternate them every week. The three sessions are varied and work the different energy systems helping the person become an overall better athlete with an ideal grounding should they specialise in a particular event or sport at a later age.
1) Shorter sprints, 20-60m efforts with plenty of rest in between them. Attack them fresh, the aim is to improve maximum speed and not undertake a shuttle exercise. Try a variety of starting positions – normal sprinting start, skipping into sprinting, jumping into sprinting, hopping into sprinting, backwards running into sprinting. Not every sprint in team sports is from a standing start so you need to prepare your body for different movement patterns.
2) 200m-800m intervals. Mix them up a bit – either a set number of a particular distance or try a pyramid session, 200m, 300m, 400m, 500m, etc. If you were repeating a session and wanted to make it a bit tougher, I would only vary one thing (increase the reps, increase the distance or decrease the rest) and not two or more at the same time.
You can also put a hills session in here and repeat a 100-400m incline a set number of times. This builds muscular endurance and strength and targets different muscle groups (glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves) than a flat run, helping to make you less prone to injury. It can help to improve running technique by encouraging you to engage arms and raise the knees a bit higher. It can also promote greater ankle flexibility/mobility as well. However, don’t just focus on running the intervals uphill all the time, try some downhill repeats from time to time. Running downhill can help to promote a faster turnover which helps improve basic speed and can improve additional quad and hamstring strength. However, one small word of caution – they are very taxing on the body so please allow for additional rest after doing these and don’t repeat them too often.
3) Slightly longer run 3-6km (depending on age) with the aim of increasing aerobic capacity. This run can be done slowly with no interest in the pace or time. Stick some headphones in, run and play with the dog and chill!!! Keep off the road if you can as grass/trails is easier on the body. It’s not a bad suggestion for some adults to do this type of run ‘fasted’ (first thing in the morning, no food before) as it increases fat burn but I wouldn’t prescribe this to an athlete under the age of 16.
Alongside these sessions, I would also include other small additional work and pay attention to other key factors:
- resistance band work (1 set of 10 reps of a range of exercises to activate certain muscle groups before exercise. 2 sets of 10 reps to help strengthen and tone the muscles outside of a run session)
- plyometrics – improve physical performance by building muscle power, endurance and strength
- stretching (only after a session, never before)
- good nutrition (another topic in itself but consume good amounts of protein within half an hour of finishing any exercise)- get plenty of sleep (at least 9 hours for children. It really isn’t cool to show off to your mates about regularly stay up late – performance levels in and out of sport will suffer, illnesses will increase, injuries will occur, motivation levels will drop)
- walking and/or cycling in between run sessions to aid recovery and keep active
- limit TV/device activity (a personal choice but don’t become addicted)
Hope that’s useful and always here to answer any thoughts or questions.