Ramp up your young athlete's workout
By Dr. Mary Beth Wilkas Janke
Around America and the world, team sports have been canceled, depriving kids of an anchor that most of them rely on for fun, socialization, fitness and a sense of accomplishment.
With these cancellations scheduled to continue for the foreseeable future, young athletes might find themselves feeling unmotivated to do much of anything, from completing their homework to getting their mile under 7 minutes, even if those things were once important to them. That’s normal; kids thrive on routine and challenge, and losing organized sports means those two structures are in short supply.
We’re all dealing with a lot of change right now. But when life suddenly changes, working out is more important than ever: it brings mental clarity and order, keeping you balanced and sane. Helping your kid refresh their zeal for sports might mean the difference between an A+ and a C- in English. It might mean they feel less stress and more achievement, even while in lockdown. It’s even possible that helping your kids form exercise routines at home might help to protect them against deadly complications from COVID.
In another life, my work in the Secret Service and as a private international protection agent depended on my elite physical fitness. Traveling the world to remote corners of South America, the Caribbean and Europe, living out of a suitcase and lodging in tight quarters, I’ve learned some tricks for how to work out intensely in confined, indoor spaces, all while the day’s agenda is constantly shifting. The first secret: no matter the day or task at hand, I always relied on endurance and strength training.
Similarly, no matter your athlete’s sport (or sports) of choice, focusing on challenging strength training and endurance exercises can build healthy, independent habits around fitness. If your young athletes have been turning into couch potatoes, now’s a good time to push them to form these independent habits. If they’ve continued their training while in isolation, now is a great time to ramp things up, even if you have limited space at home.
Because kids still need fun, even when they are being challenged, below are my go-to strength- and endurance-building games for small, tight spaces that will give your kids (and you) structure to stay in shape and even take things to the next level, so they’re ready to face the world when it reopens. The games are each just suggested structures, to be filled with a range of workouts. After the descriptions, I’ve included an index of exercises you could include in each game to get you started:
FIGURE EIGHTS: Pick four exercises (one upper body, one lower body, one core, and one cardio), do the first exercise for 20 seconds, all out, then take 30 seconds rest. Do this exercise for EIGHT repetitions. Take a 2-minute break. Move on to the next exercise and do it for 20 seconds, all out, then take 30 seconds rest. Do this exercise for EIGHT repetitions. Take a 2-minute break. Do this same routine with the next two exercises. This is a 30-minute workout.
PICK A CARD: Write down the exercises below (as well as others you perform in your team practices) on an index card. Shuffle the cards. Pick a card and do that exercise for 30 seconds to one minute, all out. Take a 30-second to 1-minute break and pick another card. Pick cards for as long as you can – starting with at least 10 exercises and working your way up by one or two exercise with each workout.
THE NAME GAME: Write down every exercise on an index card. Write out your name and then pick a card and assign one card per letter of your name. For each letter of your name, do that exercise for 30 seconds to one minute, all out. Take a 30-second to 1-minute break in between each letter.
10 CARD STUD: Get a deck of playing cards. On each card, write one of the exercises (you will end up repeating the exercises - that’s ok). Then, pick a card. Do whatever exercise you’ve drawn for the number of times the card is worth (e.g. let’s say you pick a jack and “burpees” are written on the back. You then do 10 burpees). Pick cards for as long as you can – starting with at least 10 exercises and working your way up by one exercise with each workout.
Push-ups: make sure you don’t let your butt sink, you keep your neck retracted, eyes looking at the floor/ground, and breathe out with each extension.
Triceps dips: make sure you breathe on each up portion of the dip and look straight ahead.
Wall sits: make sure you look forward, keep your back flat to the wall, and breathe throughout.
Squats: Only go as deep as you can, move slowly, look forward, and breathe.
Lunges: do not let the knee of the front leg go over your ankle – keep it at a 90-degree angle.
Crunches: keep your elbows open/straight out (like you are pinching your shoulder blades), look at one spot on the ceiling, and breathe with each crunch.
Bicycle crunches: no need to touch each knee – just do your best and breathe with each left and right bicycle movement.
Planks: make sure elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Tuck your bootie under so there is no arch in your back. Breathe through your planks!
Burpees: this can be modified to do walk out burpees if the jump out is awkward or too difficult
Dr. Mary Beth Wilkas Janke is a former United States Secret Service Agent and current consultant in the fields of forensic and clinical psychology and professor at George Washington University, where she teaches Abnormal Psychology and the Psychology of Crime and Violence. Check out her new book, The Protector: A Woman’s Journey from the Secret Service to Guarding VIPs and Working in Some of the World’s Most Dangerous Places.
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Noelle Pikus Pace – a two-time Olympian, mother, motivational speaker and youth mindset coach – on unleashing the power of the mind to help young athletes perform at their best