Athlete Development - Beginner Guidelines in Strength Training
May 01, 2021
In the second article of our ‘Athletic Development Series’ we hear from Ben Brown Roche, the Ireland U17 Physical Preparation/Strength and Conditioning Coach, who is currently in his third year at the Institute of Technology, Carlow, studying Sport and Exercise Science.
Beginner guidelines in strength training:
1. Build a foundation of strength
2. Work on technique before increasing the weight
3. Pick exercises that you enjoy doing (if you don’t have any yet, then experiment)
4. Recovery is key for muscle development
5. Keep the speed of your movement at a slow pace to start
6. Abdominal work is key for athletic development
1. Build a foundation of strength:
When you first begin strength training at a young age with little to no background in Strength and Conditioning work, you automatically try to lift heavy for as many reps as you can, thinking that this will make you stronger in no time! Unfortunately, that might not be the case. When you introduce heavy weights to a body that has not been trained in correct form or technique, it’s a recipe for danger and you could be increasing your chances of getting injured. When you first begin your strength training experience, start off easy. There is no harm in getting yourself settled first by having a handful of exercises (say 6-8 exercises), with easy to moderate free weights if needed. With the handful of exercises you have, try achieving 2 to 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions (when you complete 10-12 repetitions of one exercise, that is 1 set) first with bodyweight or easy to moderate weights. When you feel more confident in doing the exercises with good technique, then you can increase the weight that you began with. This is called ‘progressive overload’.
2. Work on technique before increasing the weight:
With lifting weights, comes great responsibility. When you train you need to play close attention to your technique, to make sure that it is good enough to progress on to increasing your weight. The best way to identify errors with your technique would be to have the privilege of having an S&C coach beside you, but considering the limitations during this pandemic, that scenario might be difficult to achieve. An alternative way could be to have a teammate or workout friend beside you, to look out for flaws in your technique. If you are unsure of what to look out for when doing an exercise, there are hundreds of videos on YouTube that you could look at, which can give you standard teaching points and corrections for any exercise. Finally, if you do not have the resources like an S&C coach, teammate or workout friend, a mirror can be a good alternative too. Mirrors are a great way to improve your own perception of how you do exercises. Self-correction can be very beneficial for the mind and body relationship, as you can see how you’re lifting the weights and feel the muscles working.
3. Pick exercises that you enjoy doing (if you don’t have any yet then experiment):
"When you first begin strength training and you don’t know where to start, or what exercise to do first - start with exercises that you enjoy doing. By doing this, you’ll feel both physically and mentally better about yourself and how you train. When these exercises start to become repetitive and you start to lose motivation to workout, then don’t be afraid to change things up. By changing either the sequence, or the exercise, you’ll still be working out and by changing things up, you work different muscles which can, in theory, improve your overall strength."
4. Recovery is key for muscle development:
As a basketball player, you have to look after yourself by recovering. Basketball is a very physically demanding sport that requires a lot of focus, control, strength, power, speed, and endurance. In order for you to feel the benefits of strength training on the court, you need to rest your body by having a good 7-9 hours sleep and getting enough nutrients into the body pre- and post-workout. Recovery days in during the week are essential for muscle development. By allowing your body to recover from your previous training session to the next, you allow the physical and mental benefits sink into the body and mind and, in theory, improving your performance on the court.
5. Keep the speed of your movement at a slow pace to start:
A lot of the time, you see people in the gym trying to do the reps as fast as possible, not paying attention to what they’re doing, just lifting the weights from A to B. As an athlete in the gym, learn to control the movement at a slow pace to begin with. By doing this, you’ll give yourself a better feel for the exercise or muscle(s) working, more time to identify errors in technique, and will reduce your chance of getting injured. A way of slowing the movement down can be by counting 3 seconds down, a 1 second pause, and 2 seconds up (on some S&C programs you can see it written as ‘312’). There are many variations in speed of movement but as a beginner, the best way to start is slow and steady. Here is an example of how to execute a slow speed in a kettlebell or goblet squat – ‘312’ which is counting to 3 on the way down, holding or pausing at the bottom of the squat for 1 second and then counting to 2 on the way back up. This simple adjustment to your workout can improve your awareness of the muscles you use during workouts and therefore improve your body and mind relationship which will show positive improvements on the court.
6. Abdominal work is key for athletic development:
Developing a strong abdominal base at a young age can be extremely beneficial for basketball players when they are faced with challenges on the court. For a basketball player, regardless of the position, having good stability, balance, agility, and posture is key in the game. Whether its defending at the rim or attacking into the paint, you have to be to move fast and in an efficient way. That is why core work is so important and it should be down in nearly every workout. If you’re thinking to yourself, “well, what abdominal workouts are most beneficial for basketball players?”, you’re thinking too hard. Some of abdominal exercises for beginner athletes in the gym can be a mixture of crunches, leg raises, oblique twists, dead bug, sit-ups, planks, side planks, etc. Start off by doing 2 to 3 exercises that include the core in every workout. All aspects of training whether on or off the court require a strong abdominal area in order to move efficiently with order body parts.
These guidelines are a good start for beginner athletes in who are curious about how to begin their journey through strength training.