Strength Training for Beginning Athletes

Strength is one of the three major athletic performance abilities, along with speed and endurance. Strength is defined as the ability to produce force. 

Programs to develop strength for younger athletes are designed to improve competition performance by developing the physical qualities needed in athletics, improving event related abilities, and enhancing the distinct needs of each individual, including preventative exercises to minimize the risk of injuries. The key to a quality program is converting the gains in strength to the specific demands of sports.

Benefits of Strength Training

More strength benefits go beyond just getting stronger; the movements improve intermuscular coordination, intramuscular coordination, kinesthetic awareness, body stabilization, balance, and flexibility. Improving muscular strength allows athletes to withstand training demands and can hold the positions required during sporting movements better than less strong athletes. 

To increase strength, the athlete must have challenging loads during an exercise. The load is based on the amount of resistance represented in a percentage determined by testing such as a single or multiple repetition performance efforts. 

The stress placed on the body during training is called the load or stimulus. Improving strength requires an overload; this is done by increasing intensity or increasing volume during training over time.

12 Week Strength Training Plan

Mike Gattone

USA Weightlifting Head Coach - 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games

This is a 12 week introductory plan designed with younger athletes in mind, especially 7-9th grade athletes.  It is designed to address many common needs for this age group, and sport.  It could also be used for older athletes that don’t have a background in organized athletic performance training.

Since the athletes performing this program are probably somewhat new to training, the program seeks to address several variables.  First of all, the mechanics of important exercises and movement patterns are approached using step by step teaching progressions.

Since the ability to demonstrate good exercise mechanics is compromised without proper movement, the improvement of basic healthy movement patterns are also constantly addressed throughout the cycle and especially stressed in the early phase.

Finally, as many training plans do, this program becomes more specific as it nears its conclusion through a transition to more intense exercises and loading patterns which translate to the needs of the events, and attempt to achieve a physiologic peak specific to track & field throwing; particularly strength and power.

For this age group and experience level repetition is important.  This program uses a small battery of basic, simple, and effective exercises with the philosophy of getting the young athletes to do them really well.

Focus is on developing important physical qualities and developing the psychology of working hard, smart, and doing things right.

As coaches we would not want athletes to do the techniques of their events poorly, so they also should learn and embrace using good form when they stretch, lift, run, jump, etc.

It’s very difficult to assign loads according to percentages with beginners. The coach must be the decision maker here, allowing weight increases when technique looks stable.  A young athlete may use the same load for a few weeks but will still benefit greatly from repetition with proper mechanics regardless of this.

12 Week Training Plan

  • Cycle 1: Work capacity
  • Cycle 2: Strength Development
  • Cycle 3: Power

Strength Training Cycle Goals

Cycle 1 – Work Capacity: Weeks 1-4

Goals of Cycle 1

  • Improve mobility and stability typically lacking in athletes this age
  • Teach mechanics, build proficiency, and gradually build loading in key strength and power development exercises for throwing; Olympic Lift Related, Squat Related, Press Related, and Hip Hinge Related.  A small battery of basic strength exercises will be covered in this introduction to assure proficiency.  From these base exercises many other lifts and variations can be added in future programs.
  • Provide “regressions” to major exercises for athletes that need them, allowing them to learn and strengthen movements while controlling overload.
  • Address and develop the base of General Physical Preparation
  • Teach basic mechanics of speed-strength/jumping movements and prepare the athletes for gradual ramp up of intensity throughout the program.
  • Teach basic sprinting patterns and prepare the athletes for gradual ramp up of intensity throughout the program.

Cycle 2 – Strength: Weeks 5-8

Goals of Cycle 2

  • Continue to address mobility and stability
  • Progress loading in the same key strength and power development exercises; Olympic Lift Related, Squat Related, Press Related, and Hip Hinge Related.  Change exercises to allow for greater loading or to become a more explosive variation where applicable.
  • Continue to provide “regressions” to major exercises for athletes that need them.
  • Increase the volume of strength and power sessions and decrease work capacity sessions as the competitive season draws nearer.
  • Progress volume and intensity of speed-strength/jumping movements.
  • Progress volume and intensity or speed work.
  • Decrease volume of general physical development work and create longer technical throwing sessions.

Cycle 3 – Power, Weeks 9-12

Goals of Cycle 3

  • Achieve a physiologic “peak” allowing the athletes to express the greatest strength and power during this final competitive period.
  • Continue to progress loading in the same strength and power development exercises, while continuing with exercise progressions allowing for greater loading or explosiveness where applicable.
  • Continue providing “regressions” to major exercises for athletes that need them.
  • Decrease the volume of strength and power sessions along with work capacity sessions allowing for maximum technical preparation.
  • Continue to progress volume and intensity of speed-strength/jumping movements.
  • Progress volume and intensity or speed work.

Special thanks to Mike Gattone for his dedicated work on this article.

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