When is it Appropriate & Safe to Start Vert Training?
Depends on Your Training Knowledge, Philosophy & Approach
Those that think it’s all about lifting weights, getting bigger and stronger or doing plyometrics they may feel that it’s safe and effective to put a bar on an athlete's back and start squatting heavy weights or have them start doing box jumps.
That’s not our philosophy as we believe that’s a sure way of increasing the risk to a young athlete's back, spine or other body parts that won’t likely have the strength and stability to control even their own body weight…
Strength Training & Age Appropriateness
Body Weight Exercises First
Our belief is that athletes 12-14 should start with body weight exercises that teach & train athletes to control & coordinate their body movements as they start learning how to perform various exercise movements under the load of their own body weight. This should allow them to build a solid foundation of body stability & control which will help them start to build the appropriate strength base to start to perform proper jumping and landing mechanics which can help them improve their vertical jump a few inches in just a few weeks.
In our opinion most young athletes 12-14 should not start squatting with a bar on their back because they don’t have the ability to control their leg, hip, spine and body movements due to a lack of hip and spine stability & strength. You can see it in most any fitness center as young athletes are placed in a squat rack with a bar placed on their back then as they try to squat down & up you see their knees move together, you see their hips move laterally instead of straight up and down and you see their spines side bending and twisting under the excessive load of the bar and weight. Yes this is weakness and more importantly it’s a recipe for knee, back and spine injuries. In our opinion these athletes should avoid squats with a bar in their back until they can safely perform a great squat with just their body weight.
Strength is Important!
I'm a strength coach and believe adamantly about the benefits of strength training, but I’m not a believer of spine loaded squats for 12-14 year olds until they have the stability and body control to move and safely squat their body weight using really good technique.
Depth Jumps & Plyometrics
Depth jumps & plyometrics are highly effective training techniques to improve vertical jump but, I believe that depth jumps, plyometric training and box jumps are all il advised for most 12-14 year olds.
If the young athlete can’t control their body weight at a slow speed with both feet on the ground then why are we going to place them in an exercise where the physical requirements exceed what they can safely control?
Specifically, when a young athlete performs a depth jump, especially off a box that’s too tall, they don’t typically have the necessary hip and spine strength to stabilize or control the movement of the knees.
Understand that the knees don’t have any lateral stabilizer muscles on the inside or outside of the knees which means that when you ask a young athlete to squat and/or jump and land you’ll often see the knees moving inwards towards each other. This is a clear indication of a lack of lateral hip and or ankle strength and stability as the muscles around the hips and ankles actually provide the stability laterally to the knees and thus play an important role in protecting the athletes knees from injury.
But when performing box jumps or plyometric jumps before training the ankle and hip stabilizers to control lateral knee movements, the knees may typically move together as the athlete jumps up and then again and often worse as they land. Short term this can create some pain under the knee caps but it can get much worse to where the athlete is experiencing pain in the knee joint and or around the spine that is simply a function of exercises that are too high level or to high of speed for the young athletes ability to control them.
Later in athletic training careers, after they’ve developed adequate leg, hip and spine stability, depth jumps and plyometrics can be more safely performed, but these types of exercises don’t belong in the athletes program in this early stage of their development.
Beginning Strength Exercises
I’d like to see young athletes first learn how to squat on two legs performing some assisted body weight assisted single leg exercises that allow a significant amount of the body weight to be supported on a structure as the athlete learns to bend and load into the muscles of the ankles, knees and hips and while the spine and back are safely loaded to an appropriate degree or amount.
Multidirectional Single Leg Exercises
Let’s also touch on the importance of multidirectional single leg movements that engage and require the hips and surrounding leg and core muscles to learn to stretch and contract while under safe loads.
When we train young athletes to move their feet forwards, backwards, laterally and diagonally, especially while supporting a substantial amount of their body weight onto a structure, the muscles surrounding their hips and legs are stretching and shortening as the legs bend and move in multiple directions. This in and of itself is huge but also understand that while all of this is happening, the small and deep stabilizer muscles of the hip and spine joints are contracting and working hard to stabilize or control the hip and spinal joints as the legs and pelvis move in different directions.
Improve Vert & Prevent Injuries Simultaneously
So what this really means is that the athlete is gaining a ton of benefits from this type of exercise that will speed the improvements in the athletes vert but at the same time will also play a huge role in preventing injuries to the spine, hips, knees and ankles.
So these are the types of exercises we like to see young athletes, especially those 12-14 years of age, learning and training. These types of exercises will build a solid foundation of body control that will speed the development of their vertical jump but will also reduce the associated risk of injuries to the ankles, knees, hips and spine.
Performed correctly, using this type of approach and these types of exercises, athletes should be able to jump dramatically higher during their athletic careers and with a mind on injury prevention for decades after their athletic careers are over.