Monday, October 6, 2014

It Makes Little Sense To Run A 10-12 Year Old Soccer Player Through High-Intensity Intervals

I do a little Fall soccer coaching, and once in awhile another coach will tell me about the sprints they did in practice, or I'll hear a rueful tale from one of the young players.  Beyond 20-yard warm-ups or a single "suicide drill" to get the attention of an unruly bunch, I see repetitive sprinting as virtually useless as a training technique for boys.

Athletically, young boys are designed for random play, as in run after each other and the ball, leap, climb, and sometimes fall comically on to the ground, not be systematically exposed to high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

A young athlete's heart rate is very different than an adult's. For example, a 10-12 year-old boy or girl has a resting heart rate  (RHR) of 85-95 beats per minute (bpm) (it can vary, some may go lower, for others it could be 100).  An older, male competitive soccer player's heart-rate, on the other hand, will go at about 36-62 bpm. When I was a young soccer player my RHR was below 40.

To use a hyperbolic metaphor, imagine taking a hummingbird (cooking along at about 1,000 bpm) and trying to blast its heart rate further over and over again, to "improve its cardiovascular condition."

When a 10 to 12 year old boy is sleeping, their heart is beating as fast as a well-trained adult's when they are walking uphill. They don't have the heart rate reserve (maximum heart rate - resting heart rate) of an adult, to accomodate sustained periods of anaerobic sprinting at or very close to their maximim heart rate.

An adult male soccer player's heart rate reserve could exceed 160 beats (200 - 40), while a little kid's may be no more than 100 beats. So using hard sprinting drills for young soccer players is not only useless from a fitness standpoint, it actually goes against the design of their hearts and bodies.

As long as they are not overweight or obese when the season begins, kids will get very fit for soccer simply by taking part in the scrimmages and drills during practice. I've noticed kids make fitness gains much faster than out-of-shape adults getting back into exercise–the soccer conditioning blossoms in a couple of weeks or less.

The scrimmages are also obviously using the specific muscles and movements of the game, which is more useful training than static sprinting, which may tell you more about the coach's ego than work well as a training strategy.

If you feel the need to augment soccer training at the young ages, you'd be better off introducing light weighttraining (like taking a couple of 2 to 5 pound hand weights and doing push presses, or some light weight cable pulls), as it's another modern myth that all weight training is inappropriate for young boys.  And get them out of vitamin D deficiency!

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