Youth strength and conditioning series. Body Awareness

This is the first instalment in a series of blog posts discussing ideas surrounding youth strength and conditioning training. We will also be discussing the popular phenomenon of long-term athletic development (LTAD). In this article, I’ll be writing about my view of what it means to create body awareness, why it’s important for youth athletes to recognise and have this ability, ways in which we can teach body awareness with some training examples. More content like this is discussed in this free ebook

Creating body awareness is a staple of the teaching within the training process for our youth athletes at the Sportland academy. It’s a vital component especially teaching newbie athletes entering into our LTAD system. 

To define body awareness is having the ability to recognise, feel, adjust and understand how our body moves in space and interacts with objects. This is through multiplanar movements such as sagittal (left and right sides of the body creating motion in a straight line), frontal (front and back sides of the body creating motion sideways) and transverse plane (upper and lower body parts creating rotational or twisting type of motion). These types of motions are commonly seen through either closed kinetic exercises (the hand or foot in a fixed position) or open kinetic exercises (the hand or foot being able to move freely) with the aim of syncing multiple joints to work together or series of movements to complete a motor task. There is plenty of learning opportunities during each session for our athletes to consciously think of how their body moves such as:

  • General mobility warm ups
  • Low level strength exercises
  • Ballistic movements such as jumping and med ball throwing
  • Speed work
  • Resistant based strength exercises  
Mobility Exercises for young athletes. Easy to do and learn

Why is it important to create body awareness in youth strength and conditioning programs?

During and appropriately planned youth strength and conditioning program. With increasing the awareness of body movement when youth athletes train, they are able to create more efficient movement patterns to achieve better mechanical positions to be able to produce higher amounts of force. This can be coupled with minimising the risk for dysfunctional movement patterns creeping in through an enhanced body mind connection. Additional reasons for the importance:

  • Improve neuromuscular control and signalling, especially through body growth periods.
  • Being able to readjust moving limbs and working through joint ranges whilst maintaining balance, stability and posture.  
  • Understanding positioning in a numerous of strength exercises to prepare the body to overcome greater external load in a safer manner.
  • Able to learn positions under low load or slow movements to then earn the right to progress onto greater means where the body will be challenged with higher loads or faster movements.
  • Reorganise the body to be in safer and more effective positions when performing explosive exercises such as jumping, throwing, changing direction and sprinting.
  • Controlling a specific joint through a multi-joint movement.

How does youth strength and conditioning work through the LTAD process? 

In the early stages of youth strength and conditioning training . We want them to be conscious when performing the exercise tasks to make it become second nature. This will engrain appropriate patterns and the feeling for different movements. They can begin to feel these movement patterns which in turn generates feedback. Positive reinforcement will allow them to be able to learn what position is ‘correct’ or what is good when they’re able to create greater tension to produce force which will make them feel stronger or feel faster. However, performing the movements ‘incorrectly’ can cause feedback of pain which can reinforce negative feedback and the need to adjust body position. 

An example of this can be when performing a hip hinge type movement. We use these types of exercises to load and strengthen the posture chain by hinging the hips back towards the wall behind us, loading through the hamstrings and glutes and maintaining a strong neutral posture. Negative feedback can occur if the athlete performs the exercise poorly by just bending over or lacking any movement of the hips by just flexing through the spine which can cause pain. The learning element will be for the young athlete to know why if there is pain occurring and solutions on how to get into a better position. 

How can we as coaches create awareness in our young athletes? 

As we should know, each individual athlete will respond in different ways to a variety of teaching tools. It’s up to you to choose the most effective tool to your athlete: 

  • We can use audio feedback such as appropriate cueing of either internal or external cues.
  • Use visual stimulation in the form of demonstration or pictures and give feedback in the form of videos of them performing the movement.
  • Kinaesthetic feedback where you as a coach can manipulate the environment with objects or the individual will feel what is right or wrong (commonly with the coach’s confirmation if asked)

What can this look like? How can we challenge the body through different types of motion?

  • Progression of closed to open chain exercises. 

Example: Mastering a split squat exercise and progressing into a reverse lunge and still able to achieve good shapes.

  • Simple exercises to more complex. 

Example: Begin by a two-leg landing task (Sagittal Plane) progressing to a two-leg lateral jump and stick (Frontal Plane) then a two-leg rotational jump and stick of 90 degrees or 180 degree (Transverse Plane) and still be able to land safely and effectively.

  • Slow to fast. 

Example: progressing acceleration drills in a band from marching to bounding to sprinting. Can we still get into the correct positions to interact with the ground more effectively or does our movement change when we add speed.

Example: Performing rhythm consecutive jumps with sub maximal intensity to grooving and achieve correct positioning and coordination to then performing the same jump exercise with maximal intensity. 

  • Low Intensity to High Intensity. 

Example: Hitting good positions in a bodyweight squat, then performing that movement with the challenge of barbell with extra load.

To summarise, we have plenty of opportunity each session to allow our youth athletes to have a body mind connection in the way that they move their body in space. When we consciously bring it to their attention, we can empower them to make changes with how they move and give them more tools creating arrange of different movement patterns. We can then systematically progress exercises to challenge the initial skills developed in the earlier stages of training and prepare the body for future advanced training. 

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This article was written by Marc Stevenson, Lead Coach at the Sportland Academy.

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