Exercise Programming for a Youth Athlete

Last article I went over the categories involved with identifying the exercises in a strength training program. However, organizing and utilizing these exercises within a specific hierarchy is another subject altogether.

Within a strength training program for a youth athlete, there are a few things to consider:


  1. Training age.
  2. Training goal.
  3. Injury mechanisms.
  4. Mental capacity for advanced exercises.
  5. Physical capacity.

These items, among many others, are just a few items to consider when writing an exercise program for a youth athlete. To further clarify, I’ll utilize the definition of a youth athlete as any athlete under the physiological age of 16 or 17, which would put them around a sophomore or junior in high school grade level. It is developmentally important to include general qualities from a wide variety of movement patterns as the youth athlete begins training, up until they begin to specialize as they get older.




Youth Athlete Training Qualities

With this in mind, a concurrent periodization method may be the most effective at grasping all desired qualities for athletic development. Specifically, these qualities may be developed within a concurrent periodization plan for a youth athlete simultaneously:


  1. Power
  2. Strength
  3. Hypertrophy
  4. Speed
  5. Coordination (Motor Control)
  6. Endurance
  7. Reaction Time
  8. Coachability

The last quality is one that is underestimated or simply overlooked. Coachability can be termed as the ability for an athlete to receive criticism in a positive way for development to occur – if the athlete is negatively turned off due to bad coaching or misinterpretation of coaching cues, then the athlete may not respond well as he or she develops throughout the years.

All of the other qualities are physiological qualities that can be subdivided further and further into more specific qualities, which serves a purpose for specific sports as the athlete develops and chooses a sport to dedicate their time towards. For example, improving reaction time will serve to benefit every athlete, but excelling in aerobic endurance may not benefit the baseball pitcher due to incorrect physiological demands per demands of the sport.

What is the difference?

To utilize an analogy, imagine every athlete has a glass of movement capacity. Younger athletes have a smaller glass, and every quality will be able to fill that glass up with a variety of drops, or in this movement qualities. Stick to one type of movement quality, and you only receive a specific type of drops in the bucket, which will lead to overtrained qualities, burnout, and other items as the athlete reaches a more mature physiological age.

The main difference between an exercise program for a younger athlete and an older athlete (senior in high school) is the specific qualities and mechanisms that are inherent to the sport and to the individual. The youth athlete will often find less injury risk with developing multiple general qualities, as opposed to strictly sticking to one type of quality such as power (using excessive plyometrics) or endurance (doing endless amounts of endurance work).

Putting It All Together

Within the scope of the training program, you can develop all of these qualities on a physiological level. Now I’ll divulge a sample day of training that may incorporate all of these items simultaneously.

Dynamic Warm-Up

This is a great time to focus on movements that an athlete might not be exposed to during many of their “sports specific drills” that their coaches may be harping on.

Further, the quality of movement can be improved by observing and coaching movements via Joint By Joint Approach!


  1. Wall Ankle Mobility
  2. Wall Hip Flexor Mobility
  3. Glute Bridge
  4. Dead Bug
  5. Yoga Push-Up
  6. Spiderman Lunge with Rotation
  7. Single Leg Inverted Reach
  8. Lateral Lunge

Movement Prep

To harp more on the developmental side of movement, when was the last time your athletes moved laterally? Backwards? On hands and knees? These movements are important to develop as proprioception can be developed, and athleticism can be improved by moving in multiple planes and directions.


  1. Jog
  2. Backpedal
  3. Shuffle
  4. Carioca
  5. High Knee Skip
  6. Bear Crawl – Forward/Backward
  7. Bear Crawl – Lateral

Specific Speed Skills

As the training moves on, you begin to move in a more specific manner. In this case, specific drills may be utilized that the athlete may encounter in day to day activity within their sport.


  1. 5 Yard Shuffle into Sprint (both directions)
  2. 15 Yard Sprint (2 Point Start)

One thing to reiterate is that coaching of all of these movements will allow better transferability to the sport and on the fly cuing – if the athlete is just haphazardly moving throughout the movements without attention to detail, the exercise may as well not be utilized!

Power Quality

Explosive movements can be utilized after working on speed movements, not only to ramp up the nervous system, but to save and utilize the appropriate energy stores after an extensive warm-up.


  1. Med Ball Drills
  2. Various Jumps (Broad, Vertical, Single Leg, Hops, Hurdle Hops, etc)

Strength Training

After all of the above, the qualities of developing strength on a neurological level may be increased. Within this phase of the program, the idea is to enhance movement quality over crushing weights, as the youth athlete will be unable to properly recruit the motor units and muscle fibers in order to properly attain a true maximal weight. With this in mind, repetitions rarely go below 4 or 5 reps, and the integrity of the form may be used in the context of a tempo (eccentric tempo, or 3-0-2 tempo with no pausing in between works).

For this day, an A1/A2 movement based schematic may be used.

A1. Squatting Motion (Goblet Squat with 3 Sec. Eccentric)

A2. Pulling Motion (Suspended Row with 3 Sec Eccentric)

B1. Single Leg Hip Hinge (Single Leg Deadlift with 3 Sec Eccentric)

B2. Pushing Motion (Incline Push-Up with 3 Sec Eccentric)

C1. Anti-Extension Core (Front Plank)

C2. Anti-Rotation Core (Side Plank)

Conditioning Protocols

Depending on the amount of facetime that is inherent with the athlete and the coach, conditioning protocols may be altered. However, this may also be a prudent time to coach how to recover between bouts, form for various conditioning protocols, or other items apparent to the coach such as sprinting mechanics or throwing mechanics.

Shuttle Run – 75 Yards or Med Ball Slams – 10 Reps on the Minute, 10 Sets

These two items may be coached during and afterwards to help ingrain specific cues to help the athlete next time through.


With all of these items in mind, it should be apparent that there are several ways to incorporate coaching, along with keeping the integrity of the youth athlete’s physiological and growing demands. If every athlete is individual, it should be inherently known that every athlete may have their own individual aspects to consider from a developmental point of view. This article was merely a reflection of how these physiological qualities may be developed for the beginning youth athlete.

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