Best Training Accessories for Youth Athletes
As a parent of an athlete, are you overwhelmed with the amount of treatments, gadgets, powders, tools, programs, and gear that are being marketed to your child? Are you stuck at where to start helping your child's performance without dumping a ton of money down the drain on gimmicks? Well, this post is for you. I am going to run down a quick list of what I believe are the most important accessories for youth athletes and what you can pass on. In saying this, there is always a place where something may work for one athlete and not another. Every body, sport, and lifestyle is unique. So, I will outline when the use of these tools would be beneficial and when it's probably not. The main thing you want to remember, is day-to-day habits will be the biggest determining factor in your child's performance. You can't out train or out-supplement a poor lifestyle.
Do I have one? Yes. Does it feel nice? Yes. Do I think kids need to invest in one? No. I bought the top of the line gun many years ago because my chiropractor showed me how to use it for mobility and to improve muscle recruitment and movement. She showed me how to use it effectively and also the importance of not using it over nerves. It was not to massage out sore muscles or work out knots. I have watched teenagers bringing large bulky massaging rods to the gym and using them in between sets to—I'm not even sure. Light massage can improve blood flow and loosen fascia, which may help with muscle soreness. But usually soreness is due to the inflammation and damage that is created in the muscle that needs protein, nutrients, and hydration to heal. Massaging it out may feel nice, but for the cost, it's really not something you need to invest in for your child athlete.
As a cheaper alternative, try a foam roller. This can help with fascial release before or after a workout to improve range-of-motion or help with recovery.
Before I became a personal trainer, some sixteen years ago, I worked at a major supplement retailer. I read a ton and got educated on a lot of supplements. The reps would often bring in samples, and I got to try a lot of different products. They would explain the ingredients and what they did so we could sell them appropriately. Let me tell you, most of them are just straight caffeine and stimulants. Think of it like pounding back four espressos before your workout. Of course you feel energized! For young athletes, caffeine, in general, should be limited as it can hide cues that they are overtired, lacking sleep or necessary nutrition. Most of these products have very little performance benefits for young athletes, even if all the pros are using them. There is a big difference between a thirty-year-old professional hockey player try to get through a long, gruelling season because his pay cheque depends on it and a fifteen-year-old basketball player who is just tired because he stayed up too late scrolling on his phone.
An alternative could be green tea, a small coffee (little to no sugar), or a power smoothie with lots of nutrients and fruits that break down quickly.
Straps & Belts
With the rising interest in powerlifting in recent years, I have seen a large increase in young kids adding weight belts and lifting straps to their gym wardrobe. Let's be clear, you are as strong as your weakest link. Though there is a time and place to use a weightlifting belt, young and growing athletes should be focussing on perfecting their form, increasing stability and overall strength gains. Belts and straps can hide a weak core or grip strength that, if compensated for, can lead to injuries long term.
Like in sport, if your pass off your weaker hand isn't great, you don't avoid it. You train it until it's not affecting your performance. Strength is the same. If your deadlift progress is stunted because of your core strength, then train your core till it's not. Unfortunately for young males, sometimes this can hurt the ego when they want to load on more weight. But strength takes time, patience, and humility to build. It won't come in a six months or a year; it comes from consistency year after year. If you try to rush it without building a strong foundation, you will get injured—that is a guarantee.
This also includes wearing a brace. Unless the athlete is currently recovering from an injury, wearing a brace should not be necessary. During games is a different thing, but during training, that is when you need to challenge and strengthen the area. You can't do that when you're using an assistance.
Of all the supplements that young people can benefit from, using some protein is one of them. I will preface this by saying that whole foods need to be the priority and the main source of protein and other nutrients. Supplements should never be relied on to meet daily nutritional needs. But they can help to supplement a diet that is not getting enough or a schedule that makes it hard to get clean food options. A simple, naturally sweetened, protein powder is a safe supplement for most young athletes. Young, female athletes tend to not get anywhere near the amount of protein they need in a day to properly repair damaged muscle tissue. This, coupled with low iron and magnesium levels, results in chronic fatigue, muscle cramps and aching, and long recovery times. The rise in vegetarian lifestyles also pose significant concerns of young athletes not getting adequate protein.
There are numerous options and my biggest suggestions is just to go with something naturally sweetened and as clean as possible. I prefer an isolated whey protein which is usually fine even for people who have dairy and lactose sensitivities. Whey will give you the most concentrated protein for your dollar. There are vegetarian options like pea and hemp protein, but they can cause some digestion issues and aren't as high in protein.
You don't have to force your young athlete to chug shakes all day, but look for ways to add small amounts. Sprinkle some into yoghurt. Add a scoop into a smoothie. Put some in your muffin or power ball recipes. Adding 5-10 grams here and there can make a big difference at the end of the day. Take note, that protein powder absorbs very quickly, and they don't need a shake with 35-40 grams of protein. Depending on how big your child is, aim for 15-25 gram servings. I wouldn't recommend having more than one full shake a day because it may mean they are not focussing on whole foods first.
With gyms being closed for so long up here in Canada, many people went out and invested in workout equipment for their homes. Not everyone can afford, or has space for, a squat rack and barbell. The number one piece of equipment I recommend is a suspension trainer, like a TRX. It is compact and can be taken anywhere—I've taken mine to Mexico, Sweden, and Costa Rica. It is so versatile; you can find endless exercises online to use with it. It is scalable. Since it uses body weight, it can easily be appropriate for young, growing bodies. Most come with a door anchor, which makes it super easy to use in hotels or bedrooms.
I have had my two TRX units for well over twelve years (used very often) and both show no signs of giving up anytime soon. These do have a decent price tag to them, but I have found pretty decent knock off ones online. These were the ones I gave out during my online training program that I ran over lockdown with my girl's team. They worked great, and now they have them to take anywhere they want to train. Any good coach or trainer can give your athlete a great workout with these and a couple things they have around at home. They truly are a whole gym in a bag.
I know I'm not going to make any friends with this one, but it needs to be said. Most training shoes on the market right now are made for fashion not function and certainly not performance. I know it will be tough to try to pull your child's attention away from the latest flashy Nikes, so I will give you some details to look for to get the best option. I'll also give you some brands that I think are doing a better job than most.
First, look for a wide toe box. That is the space where the toes sit in the shoe. Most shoes are made with very narrow and almost pointy toes which are incredibly damaging to the foot and performance. I won't get into much detail here, but forcing the toes to squish together can decrease the foot's ability to stabilize and balance. This is also why wearing shoes like converse for lifting isn't ideal either. Tip: Take the insoles out of the shoes and place your barefoot on them. Spread your toes and if they go outside the sole of the shoe, they are too narrow.
Second, the heel to toe drop. Running shoes are designed to move you forward. They come with a pretty decent heel to toe drop to force the foot to roll forward. This is exactly what we don't want when we train. You want to be able to push evenly through the whole foot. Look for a shoe that has a very minimal drop. Some shoe brands will even write this out for you.
Lastly, similar to the previous point, the entire sole of the shoe makes such a difference. I'm not sure when the developed world gave up on the human foot, but somewhere along the lines we believed we could do better. Shoes today have so much cushion that the foot can't feel the ground properly and is constantly forced to stabilize on an unstable platform. This causes weak feet and ankles and is a recipe for an injury. When looking for a shoe for your child, steer clear from the large, puffy soles and look for something fairly flat and stable. This will allow their feet to feel the ground, giving them more force output and more muscle recruitment.
Here's a few shoes I think are doing a good job for the training space. You don't have to go with one of these, but it can give you an example of what to look for. I personally own a pair of Vivos and MVMNT shoes and love both of them. (Note: A more minimalist shoe can be a big adjustment and even cause some discomfort at first. This is your feet and ankles adjusting to the new demands. Wear them in small increments to start to as you build up your strength and stability.
If your child is hitting the gym, way to go! You're doing something right. I also know that keeping up with trends can be expensive. The best accessory your athlete could have at the gym is a good program and trainer. Don't get sucked into all the gimmicks and hype. Encourage them to be consistent and open to learning. A strong training IQ takes years and can't be rushed. Patience will be rewarded. I hope this list was helpful, and if there's other topics you'd like me to address, pop a comment below. Happy Training.