The popularity of things like Crossfit and bootcamp style workouts has definitely filtered down to youth athletic level. Here's part one of a recent article I did for Inside Lacrosse on why that might not be such a good idea:
Unhappy Campers Why young athletes and boot camp workouts don't mix. by Mike Mejia CSCS
With the popularity of lacrosse at an all-time high, more and more players are looking for ways to stand out from the competition. This has invariably led to a growing number of teens hitting the gym in an effort to improve things like strength, speed and power. And while there are a variety of ways that young athletes can train to achieve these objectives, "boot camp" style workouts should not be among them.
Easily one of the hottest trends in the fitness industry, boot camp classes are turning up just about everywhere these days. You'll find them offered at local gyms, outdoors in parks, and even in specially designed facilities stocked with truck tires, plyo boxes and other alluring types of equipment.
Yet, despite their undeniable popularity, there's plenty of reasons to be wary of this ultra high-intensity approach to fitness- especially if you're a young athlete. Sure, they'll give you a "good workout", but at what cost? Do you think, perhaps, that the constant overuse of specific muscles, combined with what is often faulty technique, might actually increase your likelihood of injury? Or, are you one of the many who buy into the hype that training this way will give you the ultimate edge on the playing field?
Count me amongst the former group. I've seen enough of this type of training over the past several years to know that it's not something I'd recommend for developing young bodies. I don't care whether it's labeled as boot camp, Crossfit, or any other slick marketing term meant to lure in impressionable young athletes, the end product is usually the same: tons of overuse with an almost blatant disregard for proper form.
Rather than just randomly bash this popular workout style, though, I'm going to break down exactly how I feel it comes up short. Then, in part two of this article I'll offer up an alternative approach that's both safer and more effective.
Quantity over Quality:
One of the biggest problems I have with this type of training is that more often than not, how much you do takes precedence over how well you're able to do it. As I just mentioned, I've seen plenty of these classes in action over the years. And while it's true that some instructors do a much better job of monitoring their students than others, it's tough to keep an eye on everyone and maintain a certain pace to the workout when you're dealing with what are often large groups.
Invariably, you're going to get a few sloppy reps here and there, and it only takes one wrong move for someone to get hurt. This holds especially true for teens; many of whom have very limited training experience to begin with. Even if you are lucky enough to avoid injury, though, doing exercises with poor form just to keep up with the pace of the workout, instills bad exercise habits that can set the stage for problems down the road.
Take the use of Olympic lifts and plyometric exercises in these types of workouts, for example. When done with proper technique, they offer some of the best ways imaginable to improve explosive strength and power. That is, provided of course you also stay within a repetition range deemed to be most effective in helping to bring about these types of improvements. The fact is, the average person simply won't be able to maintain proper technique for 10, 15, or even 20 reps (and sometimes more!) of these types of drills.
They're far too technically and metabolically demanding for that! If you think I'm wrong, watch someone the next time they do a high-rep set of box jumps and see if those landings don't start getting louder as they get up past the 8-10 rep range. Or better yet, watch the bar speed of someone doing a power clean drop precipitously as they get further and further into the set! And trust me, when the fatigue starts to build, form usually goes downhill in a hurry!
Besides, even if you are well conditioned enough to somehow hold proper form for high reps, you'll essentially be negating any explosive benefits that could have been derived from doing these exercises in the first place. In fact, you'll actually make yourself less explosive by teaching your body to move more slowly! And for what? Just to be able to say that you endured doing X number of cleans, or plyo jumps, or those ridiculous "kipping" pull-ups (don't even get me started on those) in a specified time? Congratulations! Maybe you can mention that to your opponent the next time they go blowing past you!
Hurst so good?
Jarring landings atop plyo boxes and using subpar form during Olympic lifts aren't the only ways that boot camps beat up your body. Take something as seemingly innocent as the Burpee. This body weight exercise and boot camp staple can either be a brutally effective conditioning drill, or an injury waiting to happen. It all depends on how you do it.
If you're able to drop down lightly and quickly into a squat without bouncing, kick back into (and hold for a split second) a proper push-up position, kick back into a squat and then hop back up, these may be to your liking. Unfortunately, this is seldom how Burpees are done.
More often than not, what you see are people bouncing down into the squat position and then allowing their hips and head to drop as they kick back into the push-up position (yeah, that's great for your spine). Then it's one more jarring slam to the knees as they kick in and attempt to get back up. Oh yeah, and did I mention they're then expected to repeat that same sequence at least a dozen more times!
But wait, there's more! I haven't even mentioned how imbalanced these workouts tend to be. Chuck-full of all sorts of push-up and pull-up variations, there's certainly no shortage of internal rotation dominance going on. Meaning that over time, this style of training can wreak havoc on your posture by causing the shoulders to pull forwards. Throw in what is often a heavy abdominal focus with lots of crunches, sit-ups and the like and it won't be long before you're sporting the posture of a shrimp!
As far as the lower body is concerned, all of the squatting and lunging that's called for can put some serious strain on your knees- especially if you're overusing your quads in favor of those often underworked glutes and hamstrings. But hey, what's a little muscle imbalance in the name of a great workout! Right?
Instead of trying to prove what a bad-[lacrosse] you are by testing the limits of what your body can endure, why not opt for a much more sensible approach. Trust me, you're still going to work hard! You'll just be doing so in a way that eliminates a lot of unnecessary orthopedic stress.
In part two of this article, I'll show you a sequence of exercises designed to give you an excellent conditioning stimulus, while at the same time, stressing the kind of balanced development an athlete needs to help steer clear of injuries. So be sure to give them a try- just don't be too surprised if after doing so, you decide to give the more traditional approach boot camp training the "boot".
Unhappy Campers Part II The Anti Boot Camp Workout by Mike Mejia CSCS
In part one of this article, I filled you in on why I think boot camp style workouts aren't the best option for young athletes. So, in this second installment, I've put together a group of exercises designed to give you the kind of conditioning stimulus boot camps are known for- just without all of the overuse and orthopedic stress.
After going through a full dynamic warm-up, do each drill for the prescribed number of repetitions and then immediately proceed to the next one. Then, once you've completed them all, rest for 90-120 seconds and repeat the entire circuit. Aim for 2-3 rounds, depending on your current level of fitness.
One word of caution: before you just dive right into the workout, be sure to read the exercise descriptions, as well as the reasons behind why each drill was selected. This will help you gain an appreciation for how to put your own workout together in the future, based on the program objectives.
Hang Clean to split jerk: x 6 reps
Purpose: Increase explosive strength and power. Low reps target the appropriate energy system and help ensure fatigue doesn't negatively impact technique.
Execution: Stand holding a barbell at arms length in front of your thighs, slightly wider than shoulder's width. Begin by quickly driving you hips back and bending your knees until you reach a quarter squat position. Then, drive the hips forward as you simultaneously shrug the bar upwards to initiate the pull. When the bar is up about chest height, with your hips, knees and ankles fully extended, quickly drop under the bar and "catch" it across the front of your shoulders. Stand back up, and then in one rapid motion, push the weight up overhead as you drive one leg forward to land in the split position. Lower the bar back to the shoulders, then flip it back down across the thighs and repeat- this time driving the opposite leg forward as you press the weight up.
TRX row: x 10-12 reps
Purpose: Strengthen the scapular stabilizers of the upper back to help guard against shoulder injuries. Required position also engages the lower body and core.
Execution: Grab onto a TRX suspension trainer that's attached to a sturdy overhead anchoring point. After properly positioning yourself by walking your feet forward until you feel enough resistance, begin by pinching your shoulder blades together to initiate the pull. Continue pulling with your arms until your elbows drive past your torso and your hands line up next to your chest. Hold for a second, lower and repeat.
Multi-directional Lunge: x 4-5 rounds
Purpose: Increases hip mobility and builds deceleration strength for better change of direction.
Execution: From a standing position, begin by lunging forward until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and your back knee is almost touching it. Push back up and then lunge forward at a 45 degree angle with the same leg. After pushing back up, lunge out directly to the side with the same leg, making sure that your foot and knee point forward. Next, take a lunge step 45 degrees behind you, making sure to keep your torso as upright as possible. Finally, lunge straight back behind you, until your front thigh is again parallel to the ground, and back knee almost touches it. After pushing back up one more time, you now have the option of repeating the entire sequence again from the beginning, or switching legs.
* You can hold a pair of dumbbells at arm's length to increase the difficulty.
Push-up with elevation change: x 8-10
Purpose: Increases core and shoulder stability while cutting down on the amount of repetitive motion associated with doing too many push-ups.
Execution: Start in a plank position with your weight resting on your forearms and the balls of your feet, with your core held in a neutral position. With your feet positioned about shoulder's width apart, begin by bracing your core and getting up into a push-up position, one arm at a time. As you do this, try to keep your hips and lower back as sill as possible. Once in position, do a controlled push-up and then lower back down into the plank one arm a time. Now start with the other arm and once again, get back up into a push-up position. Continue for the prescribed number of reps.
Unilateral Romanian Deadlift and Reverse fly combination x 6-8 per leg
Purpose: Builds strength in the posterior chain and upper back, while simultaneously working on balance and stability through the hip, knee and ankle.
Execution: Stand Balancing on one leg with a pair of light dumbbells in your hands. Begin by putting a slight bend in the working leg, and doing a "hip hinge" by bending over forward at the waist. As you lower yourself over, keep your torso nice and long and lift your back leg behind you, while simultaneously pinching your shoulder blades and working your arms up into a reverse fly position. When your torso is just about parallel to the floor and your arms held out to the sides at shoulder's height, pause for a second, then press your heel into the ground to stand back up as you lower the dumbbells. You may then either continue on the same leg, or alternate until you've completed the prescribed number of reps with each.
Band Woodchop: x 10-12 per side
Purpose: Builds rotary strength in the core without putting unnecessary strain on the lower back.
Execution: Stand aside a sturdy object with a resistance band attached to it. Grab the band and step out enough so you have enough resistance on it. With your feet about shoulder's width apart, knees slightly bent and arms extended across the front of your body over your shoulder, begin by bracing your core and rotating down to one side. As you do this, turn your entire torso and hips by pivoting the hip further away from the side you're turning to i.e. if you're turning left, pivot your right hip. In the finish position, your arms should remain extended with your hands just outside your opposite thigh. Hold for a second and then return to the start position and repeat.
Pull-up Burpee combo: x 8-10
Purpose: Improves overall conditioning level and pulling strength, while allowing you to concentrate on proper technique for each exercise. Be sure to maintain a controlled pace as the metabolic demand will be high. There's no need for rushing here.
Execution: Stand beneath a pull-up bar and make sure you have some open space behind you. Begin by reaching up and grabbing, or jumping up to the bar and do a single pull-up. Next, lower or drop down, and do one burpee by quickly descending into a squat, kicking back into a push-up position, kicking back in and popping back up. Go into your next pull-up and continue this sequence until you've completed 8-10 reps of each (or as many as you can with proper form).
So there you go. Seven challenging exercises in their own right, that when combined, make up one of the toughest conditioning circuits you'll ever attempt. Yet despite the level of difficulty, you can rest assured knowing that you'll not only be getting a great workout, but you'll also be doing plenty to improve your athleticism and protect your body from injury.
Here's a different take on pre-game warm-ups that I did a few months ago. It involves warming up along what are known as myofascial lines.
So coaches, if you don't have time to out your athletes through a full dynamic warm-up, at the very least have them do something like this:
Hope this helps,
Mike - The information you're posting on here is unbelievably helpful, and well-presented. You've covered some topics in depth, and others in very simple terms, which is great, depending on who's reading it! As president of a large youth lacrosse organization, I'm planning to pass along many of your ideas to our coaches, on both the boys and girls side. Many of our coaches are dads, with no formal training, especially when it comes to fitness, conditioning, warmups, etc. Thanks again!
Thanks for the kind words. And believe me, it's my pleasure to help get this kind of information out there!
I have plenty more stuff to post in the upcoming weeks. Beyond that, keep in mind that I do give presentations to groups such as your on a wide variety of topics. So, if you'd like to plan an event for your organization, just let me know.
Thanks again for taking the time to read my posts.
Are there any special considerations that you would highlight for players staying sharp with indoor winter training (box lacrosse, leagues, practices)? Does the warm-up process vary when you have constant motion and action with "off the wall" lacrosse?
Because the game is so different from field lacrosse, especially in terms of the need for more quick changes of direction and shorter, generally more intense shifts, if anything I would lean towards lengthening the warm-up period.
Besides just increasing body temperature and blood flow, I would want to make sure to that the warm-up devoted enough attention to increasing both ankle and hip mobility, to prepare athletes for all of the direction changes.
I would also want to make sure that nervous system activation was especially high, given the increased need for quick reactions and split second timing. This can be achieved by including some "quick feet" and reaction time drills using things like an agility ladder, or having athletes perform rapid lines hops etc.
Having them do some tennis ball reaction drills would also be a good idea here. A coach could stand several feet in front of two athletes holding a tennis ball in each hand at shoulder's height. Athletes would then adopt a "ready" position and as soon as they saw the balls drop, they would sprint forward and each would try to retrieve their ball on just one bounce.
Another good drill you can try in your warm-up is sprints from non-ready positions. Because of the increased contact experienced during box lacrosse, players are even more apt to be knocked to the ground. Having them work on getting back up as quickly as possible and sprinting into the play can be a great way to prep them for game action.
Have players lie face down on the ground and then get up and sprint on either a visual, or audible signal. You can also have them try it laying flat on their back. It's a really effective drill and kids love it.
I hope this helps. Thanks again for your question. Keep them coming!
I just sent out the latest version of the BASE newsletter. It's packed with lots of great info including: what to look for in a trainer for young athletes, signs of iron deficiencies in kids and I even answer a common question about weight training for female athletes.
Here's a brand new article series I just started about the importance of training those lesser-used muscle groups. I thought some of you might find it interesting:
Sweat the Small Stuff Training smaller muscles groups can lead to big gains. by Mike Mejia, CSCS
Lacrosse, like many sports, is a game of inches. Sometimes being half a step quicker, or having the ability to shoot just a little bit harder, can be the difference between you ending up as the hero, or the goat. This is exactly why coaches are always preaching about the importance of doing "all the little things" to make yourself a better athlete. So, why is it then that when many of you hit the gym, you devote almost all of your time to training your biggest, strongest muscle groups?
Don't get me wrong, exercises like squats, dead lifts, presses and Olympic lifts should indeed comprise the bulk of your program. It's just that seeing as how a chain is only as strong as it's weakest link, you're going to need to spend at least some time training those smaller muscle groups that often get neglected. Here, I'm referring to things like the muscles surrounding your neck, wrists and ankles, as well as the chronically underworked medial glutes.
Deficiencies in one, or more of these areas can set the stage for injuries that can keep you sidelined indefinitely, regardless of how "big and strong" you might be. So, in this first installment of a four part series, I'll be showing you some great strengthening exercises for your neck.
Given the dramatic rise in head injuries in recent years, you'd think that neck strengthening exercises would be given greater priority in the athletic conditioning hierarchy. After all, not every concussive injury is the result of a direct blow to the head. Often times a hard upper body check can cause a whiplash like effect that can result in mild trauma to the brain. And while it's true that having a stronger neck may not completely prevent this type of situation, it stands to reason that it would at least help reduce both it's severity and occurrence.
The following five exercises offer a quick, easy way to address this critically important area. Done a couple of times per week, they'll not only help increase the strength and stability of your neck, but they can also help improve posture in general. Start out with just one set of 6-10 repetitions of each of the drills shown below- making sure not to add any additional resistance until you can easily perform two sets per.