Better Upper Body Training for Young Athletes

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Upper body strength is a huge need of young athletes but it is one of the hardest things to accomplish.

I was having a conversation with a kid just today. He was away last week so its almost been 2 weeks since he last benched.

I wanted to be more conservative with his weights because the bench press is such a conditional exercise for young athletes. If even one thing is off, benching can be really hard.

This could be because the upper body muscles are smaller and typically less developed or maybe something else. It really doesn’t matter why but the bench press leads more confusion with new lifters than any other lower body exercise. Sometimes its good and others its not.

This can make building upper body strength very difficult. The best thing you can do is be consistent. Get your reps in and often. That will best help with improving.

Some specific tips to help improve your upper body strength are as follows.

Perfect Pushups

Athletes that suck at pushups usually struggle with upper body strength. Never mind the core demands of the push up.

It is in your best interest to get really good at pushups. Like, really good.

Very few other exercises will get the upper body strength and core stability demands of the pushup. When you can sequence those together you have a solid platform to build off of.

A wacky, inflatable, waving arm tube man would have trouble benching because there is no stability there.

Forget the 1RM tests

No one care how much you bench and it doesn’t matter.

The main reason is because there are some that are getting 600+ lbs. Chances are that you aren’t going to ever do that.

Also, unless you’re a powerlifter then benching is just a strategy. It is not the sport itself.

Your goal should be to try to improve your performance the best you can. Bench pressing is just supposed to help you get there by building strength.

Young athletes don’t need to test a 1RM bench. A good program will have them making continuous improvement.

Most of our programs stay linear for a long time. This means that eventually an athlete is going to bench for a heavy set of 3. That gives me pretty good info about where they are at without having to test it.

All testing numbers get inflated anyway so there is no accuracy to it. Work on getting continuously stronger and not grinding through arbitrary heavy sets.

Should you Overhead Press? 

We changed our assessment protocol almost 3 years ago. Since then I have assessed exactly one athlete that had the range of motion and core control to safely press overhead.

Most athletes cannot safely reach their arms overhead which makes overhead pressing a risky decision.

And again, the goal is to increase performance, not check the boxes on performing certain lifts.

Tons of Rows

You should row double the amount that you push. That means for every rep of bench pressing, perform 2 of rows.

This will bring balance to the upper body and avoid the burden of overuse on the pushing pattern.

Your upper body has to push and pull. We are much more dominant in pushing so that is why we need to close the gap down.

The Arm Farm is a Privilege 

Everyone likes to hit the arm farm and get their biceps and triceps going.

This should be an add on, after the real work has been done.

Your upper body strength is going to significantly improve just by doing arms.

Save it for the end of the workout or an off day.