For Young Athletes, Getting Stronger Is Almost Always a Good Idea

Getting strong is hard work, and it's rarely flashy. But it's the essential ingredient in my recipe for building better athletes.

"How do your athletes get such great results?"

It's a question I hear often.

We had 12 All-County athletes, seven All-State athletes, two New York State Players of the Year, three High School All-Americans and an All-Conference Collegiate selection in the past semester, alone. I'm confident we will have many more by years end.

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"How do your athletes get such great results?"

It's a question I hear often.

We had 12 All-County athletes, seven All-State athletes, two New York State Players of the Year, three High School All-Americans and an All-Conference Collegiate selection in the past semester, alone. I'm confident we will have many more by years end.

So, what's my answer?

The two most essential ingredients for our athletes are work ethic and consistency, and that comes from within. I can't force a kid to work hard or show up to the gym. 

But I do believe our style of training separates us, and I think we've created an atmosphere conducive to training with intent. If a training facility's atmosphere doesn't inspire people to work hard, it's a fatal flaw.

I believe a weight room should have a feeling of intensity and competitiveness. I believe there should be music blasting. I believe there should be chalk in the air and big plates on the bar. 

Ultimate Advantage can be a little intimidating at first. We like it that way. Athletes know that when you come to UA, you're going to be expected to perform at a certain level. That scares some people. We've been told many times over that some athletes are afraid to come in. But if you're afraid to work hard, we don't want you. We're going to push you mentally and physically. You can either get better or you can quit.

We're not interested in hopping on whatever trendy routine the latest internet guru is selling. We have a basic formula of lifts and drills, and truth be told, they don't vary all that much based on sport or gender.

For us, it starts with getting athletes strong. Strength is the center of it all, and getting stronger improves many other things essential to athletic performance. Alan Bishop, Director of Men's Basketball Sports Performance, sums it up well:

A 2016 review published in the journal Sports Medicine states that, "greater muscular strength is strongly associated with improved force-time characteristics that contribute to an athlete's overall performance. Much research supports the notion that greater muscular strength can enhance the ability to perform general sport skills such as jumping, sprinting and change-of-direction tasks. Further research indicates that stronger athletes produce superior performances during sport-specific tasks. Greater muscular strength allows an individual to potentiate earlier and to a greater extent, but also decreases the risk of injury."

It's fair to argue that the individual trait of strength matters more for a football offensive lineman than it does, say, a softball outfielder. But we're still going to spend a lot of time getting both of those athletes stronger, because getting stronger is a direct, low-hanging way to improve many athletic attributes simultaneously.

Think of this example. Athlete A is 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds. He squats 580 pounds and benches 350 pounds. 

Athlete B is 6-foot and 180 pounds. He doesn't know his squat max or bench max, because he's never lifted heavy weights. Rather, he and his trainer focus on deceleration exercises and balance drills—stuff that often gets labeled as being more "sport-specific" or "functional" and looks good on Instagram.

We're going to do a Med Ball Drop. We'll drop a 100-pound ball, and the athlete will have to catch it, decelerate it, and explode it back up. You've got $1,000 to place a bet. Who do you think will do it more explosively—athlete A or athlete B?

I know who my money's on.

Too many athletes who could make serious improvements in their performance by getting stronger instead spend most of their time training traits or abilities that make them only marginally better. But they train at a nice, new facility with lots of TVs and mirrors and beautiful bathrooms, so they think it's paying off.

Save the cutesy stuff for someone else and focus more on proven exercises that will get you stronger and deliver a high return on investment.

As our athletes get stronger, we help them learn to apply that strength into jumping, sprinting, throwing, etc., via plyometrics and speed training.

Don't worry about how your workout looks on Instagram. I'd rather an athlete ask a coach questions like, "Do you Box Squat?" or "Do you Deadlift?" or "What equipment do you have that can make my hamstrings stronger?" And again, we train our girls the same way we train our boys. The biggest difference is the girls get more pre-hab work to prevent knee injuries, since they're more susceptible to torn ACLs. Other than that, the difference is minimal.

RELATED: It's Not Training 'Like a Man'. It's Training Like an Athlete.

We just had a 125-pound high school junior softball player deadlift 350 pounds. She is lightning-fast, strong and confident, and she'll be 1st team All-Section again this season. She works hard in the weight room and at her sport, and it's paid off.

There are those rare genetic outliers who are successful despite never touching a weight, but what are the odds you're one of them?

Seeing a young athlete walk through my door who wouldn't significantly benefit from added strength and muscle mass would be like spotting a unicorn.

If you want to get in athletic shape, getting strong is an essential part of the formula.

It's not the only part, but it's the part I find matters most and has the broadest carryover. I have written many articles with descriptions of how you should work out to maximize training time, and those apply to any team sport athlete I train. You can find them on my STACK author page.

Getting strong is hard work, and it's rarely flashy. But it's the essential ingredient in my recipe for building better athletes.

Coach Rick Scarpulla is the owner of the Ultimate Advantage Training Center. You can reach him at 914-433-1110 as well as on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Photo Credit: Jan-Otto/iStock

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Topics: WEIGHTLIFTING | STRENGTH TRAINING | SQUAT | DEADLIFT | HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS | HEAVY LIFTING | GETTING STRONGER | MAX OUT