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Endurance Training & Kids - Part One

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Endurance & The Young Athlete

Part One

Endurance training and young athletes is an often-misunderstood topic. On one hand, there are strength coaches who tend to disregard developmentally sound elements of endurance training in lieu of producing stronger and faster athletes via strength and power type exercises exclusively. On the other hand, there are over-zealous coaches and trainers who equate endurance to long distance/duration activities, often with little regard for the athlete’s stage of development, ability or current level of conditioning.

Endurance can be defined quite simply as one’s ability to withstand fatigue or the ability to control the functional aptitude of movement in lieu of external stress. The latter definition lends itself well to the concept of athletic development and training young athletes. As I have stated many times in both print and lecture, when working with youngsters, the key ingredient to producing a successful training program is the ability to recognize that quality of execution is profoundly more important than quantity. Having said that, I still see coaches, trainers and parents opting for more difficult training sessions that include high volume or high intensity activities rather than concerning themselves with how correctly the exercise is being performed. Poor execution results in habitual patterns that are difficult to break and could result in injury. With respect to endurance training, proper mechanics are often compromised for higher volumes or intensity’s and this is very much a mistake.

One thing to consider is that the term ‘endurance’ has application to varying lengths and types of effort:

·Long slow distances – efforts of limited intensity but high distance or time

·Speed – efforts typically lasting 15 – 45 seconds with high levels of intensity but obviously limited time or distance

·Muscular – the ability to sustain a muscular contraction for a prolonged period of time

There are several factors to consider with respect to the development of endurance in a young athlete:

1.Mechanical/Coordination/Movement – Efficiency of movement is a paramount factor with respect to the endurance capabilities of a young athlete. Poor mechanics (which are only reinforced with repetitive training) lead to higher degrees of fatigue. To truly increase the ability of a young athlete (in all facets), coaches and trainers must exercise patience and teach proper movement habits rather than prescribe endless numbers of sets. A critical point here is that by perfecting technique, you can effectively improve endurance without increasing training volume.

2.Body Type – The more overweight a young athlete is, the less endurance they will likely have. Excess bodyweight (particularly in the form of body fat) will serve to decrease endurance due to an increased energy cost. Additionally, being overweight often leads to poor mechanical efficiency (as per point one). According to Joseph Drabik, “each 5% of excess weight penalizes a child approximately 89 meters in a 12-minute run test”. Conversely, “in a 10-mile run, each kilogram reduction of body mass improves performance by 30 seconds”. Drabik did not indicate how bodyweight was determined to be excessive.

3.Psychological – Many young athletes do not poses significant amounts of mental toughness (but they’re kids so why would they?). To combat this, many over anxious trainers and coaches opt to make drills and exercises purposefully difficult in order to produce some sort of perceived mental strength. Given that both the physical structure as well as mental potency of youngsters is tenuous, this often leads to little more than burnout or injury. A more prudent approach to this factor is to systematically present challenges to young athletes that respect their individuality as well as the stage of development they are in and offers positive feedback at the conclusion. By offering challenging yet achievable forms of exercise, you will progressively improve their endurance and develop their confidence to attempt new and more challenging things.

In Part Two, I will discuss developmental aspects of endurance as well as provide sample ideas for endurance training.

- Brian Grasso


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