By: Brian Bullman
The competitiveness of youth athletics has never impacted me more than this particular moment in time. Back in my native land of Ireland, school kids are hitting the gym and hitting the gym hard in an effort to give themselves the advantage over their fellow competitors and maybe earn a shot at a professional career. For the less academically inclined, sports can be a way to carve a financially lucrative career otherwise unattainable.
However, since my move to the United States some years ago I have become increasingly more aware of the pressures teen athletes are under here to perform. But the pressure is a good thing; there is massive reward here in the United States, with scholarships to the top universities and colleges up for grabs.
Most of us know that in order to gain the competitive edge on your fellow athlete, you must train harder than your competitors. The successful athlete knows that training smarter is key, including eating right, resting appropriately and using the right supplements to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it requires to grow and recover. As kids, your body is still maturing rapidly and you need to be cautious of the changes occurring due to puberty.
Increased hormone levels mean increased strength and this is where training smarter comes in to play. Muscle can adapt much faster than bones and as a teen, your bones have not yet fused. They can take some serious punishment on the field that can cause severe problems for the future due to the lack of skeletal maturity. Our bones are not finished fusing until we are in our early 20s in some cases. A well planned training regime, nutrition plan and supplement program can make the world of difference, using your strength training to increase your structural strength and improving recovery times. This is what will separate the Kobe Bryants from the rest of the pack.
That being said, there is no better time than adolescence to begin a good strength training program, and it is during these years that most athletes decide to pick up the weights for the first time, for whatever the reason. Making the decision to hit the weight room is the first step in the right direction. Choosing the correct training plan is the next.
For years I have watched young athletes hit the gym and go through an array of exercises that they have seen in a magazine or heard about from a friend who heard it from a friend, who got it from his cousin twice removed, whose brother’s, sister’s mother’s ex boyfriend gave them, and he got it from a guy who knew a guy who used to be a bodybuilder.
In order to yield the full efficacy of a strength-training program, we need to take an analytical view of the sport in question. Decide what components of fitness are required to be competitive and build your strength program from there.
So, taking a look at some of the more popular sports here in the United States, such as football, basketball, baseball, lacrosse and soccer, to name but a few, the majority of these games require speed, stamina, agility, strength, endurance and flexibility. All of which can be dramatically improved with the aid of a well-designed strength and conditioning program.
To maximize your time in the weight room (freeing up time for study and friends) and create the most efficient plan possible, choose more compound exercises than isolation exercises. Compound exercises are those exercises that require more than one joint action to complete the movement. These exercises include squats, bench press, deadlifts, high pulls, power cleans, snatches, etc. Conversely, barbell curls are not a compound exercise, they are considered an isolation exercise – one joint action. Most compound exercises are the backbone of every good strength and conditioning program, regardless of the sport.
Your strength program should be performed three days per week, ideally on days where it does not interfere with either your main sport or more importantly, your studies. See the info box to the left for an ideal strength-training plan that can benefit any athlete in any sport.
To choose the poundage for each exercise, remember that your 1 rep max (RM) is 100 percent, 2 reps = 97.5 percent, 3 reps = 95 percent and so on. However, doing a 1RM when you are new to strength training would be ill advised and can be quite dangerous. I recommend that you gauge the weight by how much effort it takes to perform your required reps. If you are aiming for 6 reps and could easily get the 6th rep and maybe even another few, the weight is too light. Alternatively, if you are aiming for 6 reps and fail after the 4th, the weight is too heavy.
Even more important, I would strongly recommend the guidance of a professional to learn the proper techniques for weight training. Any exercise performed incorrectly can potentially lead to injury – this we want to avoid at all costs. MS&F 

Day one
Power Cleans: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
Bench Press: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
Barbell Curls: 4 sets 8 to 10 reps
Dumbbell Curls: 4 sets 8 to 10 reps

Day Two
High Pulls: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
Squats: 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps
Deadlifts: 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps
Day Three
Snatch: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
Military Press: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
Triceps Pushdown: 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps
Skull Crushers: 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps
Brian Bullman is a competitive athlete and sports scientist educated at the world-renowned University of Limerick, Ireland. He has spent the last 22 years coaching athletes from all levels of competition earning him the reputation as one of the most knowledgeable coaches in the industry. Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianBullman, or Facebook: Brian The Bull

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