Exercise has had an unfortunate one-size-fits-all approach for far too long. The idea that every “body,” should be treated the same in regards to training is both dangerous and a bit silly when we get down to the nuts and bolts of what make us, us. If we look at cumulative time we have spent training for sport, fitness or hobby we have an estimate that is often referred to as Training Age. Training Age varies greatly because the sum of what has made us what we are physically and athletically can be so different.
Let’s say you grew up on a farm, baling hay, working with your hands each and every day, you would likely have laid down foundations (example: grip strength, greater work capacity and maybe even work ethic) that would carry with you for the rest of your life. These qualities could make, for example, wrestling or football easier and more intuitive if picked up later. Perhaps another person trained in gymnastics at an early age. Their ability to balance, be pliable and athletic would be superior to someone who did not have that background. Let’s say that same person decided to take up track as an adolescent, their body would be particularly well adapted for the jumping, sprinting and athletic demands of track and field. So how does prior exposure lay the foundation for future success??
Strength is largely a neuromuscular adaptation and motor engrams are the vessel of that adaptation.
Specifically, motor engrams allow us to perform similar movements with less brain activity and increased muscular efficiency. The more often we perform these movements — and here is the caveat — when they are performed CORRECTLY, the better motor engrams we create. Quality and intent are critical to creating the engrams that benefit us in totality.
Training age is in contrast to two other relatively quantifiable measures of age — chronological (here is our hard number, determined by our birth date) and biological (think maturity here).
Sometimes you have a 14-year-old who looks like a father of three, full beard and a retirement plan. Other times you have a 14-year-old who can’t fill out their t-shirt, squeaky voice and looks like a strong gust of wind might fold them in half. We could also link mental maturity here; more specifically the individual’s ability to receive, process, and create based on instruction and queuing.
A quality strength/movement coach should be able to survey the interplay between these variables to design a exercise plan for each individual. This includes using questionnaires, movements, and a variety of athletic assessments to help determine training needs.
The intangible is the experience that a strength coach has and the team they surround themselves with to collaboratively asses and serve the needs of the athlete or individual.
Simply put training age, and the appropriate age for youth athletes to start training, depends on the individual. A professional can assess training readiness and create the appropriate training plan.