Q: I’ve noticed how several of my son’s friends are getting personal trainers and trying sports performance training. I want to try to add some agility and conditioning exercises to his routine to keep up with his friends. How much and how often should he do these types of exercises?
A: I get asked this question on a weekly basis by Internet users and sports enthusiasts. Most are people who live in rural areas and may have to travel several miles to the nearest gym. I usually just write back with a response based on their specific needs. But then one morning I saw a father out at a local track putting his sons through a 2-hour workout that just did not make sense. This prompted me to respond on a more regional scale to spread the word on proper training techniques.
First of all, you need to consider age, especially if you will be working with 2 or 3 children of various ages. What a 17-year-old does will be far different from a 13 or 9-year-old. Changes in current as well as anticipated physiology and movement patterns need to be considered and properly evaluated. Second, you will need to take a look at their respective schedules in terms of practices, games, camps, travel days, etc. The worst thing you can do at such a young age is over train. This will not only lead to a decrease in performance, but may contribute to overuse injuries such as stress fractures and tendonitis. Third, after you have found some days during the week that work, you will need to determine how much time you have to dedicate to training. It is in this area that I see the most mistakes made by mothers and fathers trying to help their children. What most people do at this stage is to try to cram all types of training into one session without any rhyme or reason. The two boys that I mentioned earlier were running full field sprint-jog combinations for at least 40 minutes to exhaustion and then asked by their father to complete some ladder agility and plyometric drills.
Optimally, you would train speed, agility, and explosive quickness in one day, and then endurance another. We have several advanced high school and college athletes that have a 4-5 day schedule laid out for them in the off-season in regard to when and what to train on a given day. Many of the younger athletes are already getting in endurance-specific training at practices (i.e. coaches that run repetitive sprints or suicides at the end of practices). For those athletes I would recommend 1-2 days a week dedicated to speed and agility work (schedule providing). For some whose coaches don’t get in fitness during practices and want to add conditioning to their training, do this after the speed and agility work.
I would still recommend no more than 2 days a week, but structure the workout so that following an active warm up, work on explosive movements next like speed and agility, and then finish with endurance-based exercises like repetitive sprints and sprint-jog combinations. Remember the saying, “Train fast to be fast. Train slow and get slow.” If you are tired when you try to do speed and agility work, you will be training your body at suboptimal levels and may be making yourself slower.