A general consensus among health and fitness professionals is for pre-teen athletes to gradually ease into weight training by initially performing multi-joint bodyweight exercises (e.g., Wall Squats, Multidirectional Lunges, Step-Ups, Push-Ups, Pull-Ups or Inverted Rows) to safely strengthen their joints, tendons, bones and muscles.
Below are seven compound bodyweight exercises you can use as a safe, effective starting point for pre-teen athletes. Before we dive into the exercises, let's first outline how they should be performed:
Sets/Reps: 1x8-10 for the first several workouts and then 2x10 as the athlete gains strength and endurance. On the last rep of each set, hold the the contracted phase for 5-10 seconds, maximizing muscle tension for advancing tendon and joint strength.
Rep Speed: 4-1-2 (four seconds negative phase, one second pause, two seconds positive)
Rest Between Sets: 60 seconds
Rest Between Exercises: 60-120 seconds
1. Physioball Wall Squats
Grab a physioball (also known as a Swiss ball) and find a flat wall. Place the ball against the wall and stand up straight against it, facing away from both the ball and the wall. With your arms by your side, slowly descend into a squat position. Once you're at the bottom of the exercise (which is signified by your thighs being parallel to the floor), pause in that position for one second before returning to the standing position. Physioball Wall Squats are excellent not only for building lower-body strength, but also for strengthening core muscles. Find more info here.
Start in a high plank position with your arms about shoulder-width apart. As you lower yourself towards the ground, fight to keep your elbows close to your sides and prevent them from flaring out. It's important to keep your core muscle tight and prevent your lower-back from sagging when performing this exercise. This ensures you're efficiently targeting the chest, shoulder, arm and core muscles during each Push-Up.
3. Single-Leg Squats (Pistol Squats)
At any age, balance is essential for everyday and athletic movements. Doing 8-10 reps of a Single-Leg Squat with one foot airborne and your arms at your sides or overhead is a great test of one's balance and unilateral strength. Tip: Focusing your eyes on an object ahead of you (i.e. a clock, or window) as you perform the movement can help you maintain your balance. Many athletic movements are performed off one leg, so building strength and stability in that position is an excellent way to improve your athletic foundation.
4. Pull-Ups or Inverted Rows
Pull-Ups and Inverted Rows are another wonderful basic upper-body exercise for young athletes to master. Many people, pre-teens included, are "anterior dominant". This means that the muscles on the front of our bodies are stronger and tighter than the muscles on the back of our body, which creates posture and performance issues. Pulling exercises like Pull-Ups or Inverted Rows can help strengthen your posterior muscle groups and combat this issue.
5. Forward/Reverse Lunges
Forward and Reverse Lunges are another excellent bodyweight exercise for teens. The key is in controlling your descent into the lunge position, remaining strong and stable in that position for a count, and then pushing into the ground to ascend back to your starting position. This exercise targets a bevy of lower-body muscle groups and directly translates to many common athletic movements. You can be sure you're hitting the right range of motion by seeing if your front thigh is parallel to the ground at the bottom of the movement.
6. Sit, Stand, Run Combo
This combination movement taxes all sorts of different muscle groups while also boosting your endurance. Being in a seated position on the floor with your knees slightly bent and your hands on the floor close to your sides. Explode to your feet as quickly as possible and then run in place for 5-10 seconds, emphasizing high knees. Sit back down and repeat the movement until the set is complete. You don't need to worry a whole lot about your form here--just focus on getting to your feet quickly and transitioning into your run as fast as possible.
Step-Ups are a great exercise for training hip extension and targeting several key lower-body muscle groups. Facing a bench or chair, place one foot atop. Press down on the bench/chair by driving through your mid-foot so your leg straightens as you drive the opposite foot onto the platform. Repeat for 9 more reps before taking a break and then performing another set with the other foot atop the platform.
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