Those who follow our youth development initiatives via NIFutures.com or twitter will have noticed I now regularly publish our session plans online. This helps the coaching team share programmes with coaches delivering regionally and allows us to provide examples for coaches who might be keen to incorporate a similar multi event approach back in their own club. A 90 minute Rising Stars session for athletes aged 12-14 years old will include approximately 30 minutes of warm up and general physical preparation/ movement skills followed by 20 minutes each of more specific running, jumping and throwing activities. As we continue to share session plans I thought it might be useful to explain some of the general principles I use to progress exercises within the sessions. Sometimes it’s also necessary to be able to regress an exercise for an athlete who is returning from injury or is less competent than their training partners. We want to provide sufficient challenge for young athletes as we aim for mechanical efficiency, consistency, co-ordination and good posture.

University of Ulster Athletics Development Officer-Dean Adams has assisted me by providing demonstrations in the videos below. Our first example is Lunge Progression (video)

Dean has demonstrated:

  • Split Squat
  • Reverse Lunge
  • Reverse Lunge to High Knee
  • Continuous Walking Lunges

Typically Rising Stars Athletes will spend 6 weeks mastering each exercise before the majority progress.  In this case the exercises have progressed from static to dynamic, simple to complex & double to single support.  We want the athletes to ‘earn the right’ to progress by displaying good trunk stability and limb co-ordination at each stage.

The next example is Squat Progressions (video)

Dean has demonstrated:

  • Squat with hands ahead
  • Squat with arms across shoulders
  • Prisoner Squat
  • Overhead Squat

In this case the ‘hands ahead squat’ provides athletes with a counterbalance to assist in keeping their trunk upright and parallel to the shins as they descend. We have found this helps them keep a neutral spine and scapula position with stability in the bottom of the squat.  Our coaches will be cueing knees tracking in line with feet as the athlete sits ‘back and down, keeping the heels on the ground.’  Shortening the lever of the arms in the second progression by taking arms across the shoulders decreases some of the counterbalance whilst the prisoner squat requires the athlete to display greater thoracic mobility and anterior trunk stiffness. Finally, the overhead squat requires the athlete to display all of the qualities already discussed as well as good range in shoulder flexion.  In this example the exercise has progressed from simple to complex by increasing involvement of different joints and the increasing requirement for mobility and stability.

Example 3- Jump Progressions (video)

In this example we have focused on progression of 2 footed horizontal jumps. Dean has demonstrated:

  • Line Jump Stick
  • Long Response Line Jump Stick
  • Continuous Line Jumps
  • 12 Inch Hurdle Jumps

Having achieved a symmetrical, stable squat pattern with young athletes we introduce landing drills before plyometrics. The focus initially in the ‘line jump stick’ is a stiff landing with the athlete absorbing force at the hip, knee and ankle as they land flat footed, knees aligned with feet. As we move to the ‘long response line jumps’ we begin to cue a ‘tall, thin’ position at take off to encourage full extension. Although these jumps are still not plyometric in nature, as we allow a ‘long response’ or ‘ground contact time,’ the athlete is now required to co-ordinate the limbs more quickly for each subsequent take off.  Once competent and consistent in the flat footed landing with no knee valgus these jumps then progress to continuous line jumps with a decreased ground contact time and increased requirement to use the stretch shortening cycle.

As a rule of thumb we usually spend a minimum of 6 weeks and up to 10 weeks on each of the exercises above before progressing to the next.  It is often only in the 2nd year of the programme that athletes progress to true plyometrics or jumping over obstacles (initially 6-12 inch hurdle jumps.) Jumping over an obstacle increases the intensity by requiring the athlete to jump higher. Greater ground reaction forces load the athlete’s musculoskeletal system more and this effect is known to be magnified in athletes displaying instability. To prevent injury we must ensure competent landings and appropriate force absorption in all previous landing drills before introducing truly plyometric activity.   In summary the jumps have progressed from slow to fast, static to dynamic, long ground contacts to shorter and small amplitudes to larger with a focus on mechanical efficiency and consistency at each stage before progressing.

Hopefully these examples have provided some insight into how the coaching team at Athletics NI progress exercises in Rising Stars & Youth Academy sessions.  Personally I prepare exercise progression streams for many of the key exercises I want to coach in the gym or on the track.  This allows me to find a suitable starting point for any athlete and with a mixed ability group helps me to find the appropriate level of individual challenge whilst sticking to a similar training theme for the group.  Thanks again to Dean for taking the time to film and edit the videos and thanks to Kelvin Giles (Movement Dynamics) who I have heard present on several occasions emphasizing “earning the right to progress”.  Kelvin is passionate about laying the foundations for good movement in young people and has always demonstrated the importance of utilizing a toolbox of coaching skills to progress and regress exercises to achieve the desired outcomes.

He who has not first laid his foundations may be able, with great ability, to lay them afterwards, but they will be laid with trouble to the architect and danger to the building.   (Machiavelli)

Find us on Twitter: @LauraKerrANI / @DeanUUAthletics