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Why More Running Is NOT The Way for Young Athletes to Get Fitter

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Why More Running Is NOT The Way for Young Athletes to Get Fitter

Aerobic fitness is a very important aspect to many team-based field sports, and often the fitter athlete will be the more successful one. However, the definition of the "fitter" athlete seems to have shifted away from sport specific fitness and towards who can run further.

If you look at a breakdown of movement analysis of soccer and AFL athletes, you will see that a lot of their game time is spent walking, standing still, and jogging at low intensities interspersed with a lot of high-speed efforts. Looking at this, it should be concluded that the athlete that can consistently accelerate and reach high speeds throughout the match is that fitter athlete, over one that finishes the game with more kilometres.

The focus of conditioning training should be cantered around quality repeat sprint efforts and maintaining speed and acceleration under fatigue. A large emphasis, especially at younger ages, needs to be on technique, and exposing athletes to different take off positions so they are prepared for the unpredictable environments of their sports. Once technique and quality of repetitions is established, this is when you can start building the volume up gradually over time.

Poor running technique will lead to injuries a lot quicker than a lack of fitness. If your young athlete doesn't understand their body positioning in the different stages of acceleration, max velocity and change of direction, then they are always going to be in a biomechanically disadvantageous position, exposing themselves to a higher risk of injury. Sound running technique and a gradual increase in sprinting volume will ensure that your athletes' muscles and tendons are robust enough to handle the repeat high intensity nature of their sports.

If you think about your adolescent athlete's week already, they are training for their sport 2 nights a week, playing a game on the weekend, strength training 2 times a week and then playing sport during lunch times and after school with their friends. The number of kilometres they clock up during the week would already be high, and so introducing high distance running sets on top of this is only going to lead to injuries and burn out.

The best way for an athlete to get "game fitness" is to get them playing their sports. There are no running sets that will achieve the same sport specificity as the sport itself, and so their fitness will be built up over the length of the season naturally. Thus, highlighting the important of working on technique and quality when you have the time during pre-season, and not trying to play catch up halfway through, when athletes are struggling with injuries.

To find out how you can improve your young athlete's performance, overall well-being and avoid burnout, contact us at Inner Athlete.

Matt Hucul
Junior Strength Coach
Inner Athlete (AUS)


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