Youth Running: How can I help my teen runner get faster?

Here’s another question about youth running:

“I have a 15 year old son who has run cross country & track for the past 5 years. He does very well and is top ranked in his division. My concern is that he’s a small for his age; but his size never was an issue until now. He’s competing with stronger & bigger runners in school he’s posting good times 10min 14 sec on the 3200 and 4min 41secs on the 1600.My question is should he start with some sort of weights for strength?”

This is such a wonderful question and a very common issue. Kids mature at such different rates that often competitions seem “unfair” with some so developed and some still looking like they belong in grade school or middle school (junior high school). Combine that with genetics (some kids simply won’t be big or tall or fast or whatever) and it becomes an interesting dilemma. However, the good news is that the answer is actually more straightforward than the problem.

The first thing to dissuade ourselves of is that a successful runner has certain dimensions. We know that runners tend to be leaner than other athletes. There is also a tendency for the longer distance runners to be lighter and slighter in stature; the middle distance runners tend to be a bit bigger and stronger; and sprinters tend to be the most bulky and powerful of runners. These are only a tendencies and do not dictate success – there are numerous exceptions within these generalizations.

Here’s a short list of elite examples for you. Moroccan Hicham el Guerouj was the world record holder of the 1500 – he is about 5-9 and 127. Compare that to American miler Alan Webb’s 5-9, 145 – 20 pounds heavier! While Bernard Lagat falls in between those two at 5-8, 134. Khadevis Robinson an 800 specialist is 6-0, 160. Dan Lincoln & Aaron Aguayo are the US best steeplechasers are 6-3, 160 and 5-11, 160 respectively. Moving up to 5k through the marathon, Kahalid Khannouchi is 5-5, 125; Adam Goucher is 5-10, 138 and Dathan Ritzenhein is 5-8, 117. Arguably the greatest distance runner ever (1500 on up to the marathon) is Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, stands barely 5-5 and weighs 123 pounds. I’m not sure any of them looked at size as an issue. And you would never hear them use a competitor’s size as an excuse for losing to (or beating) them.

Your son’s training and his talent (genetics) will dictate how far his running will take him. The training I mean is far more heavily weighted (pardon the pun) on what you do with your running not in the weight room. Hill running makes you strong and it’s a running-specific strong. Weight training if done correctly and systematically may enhance his running at some point. Perhaps the most important benefit may be injury prevention. Most coaches do advocate some type of resistance training during certain phases of training but, running comes first. Something you truly have to think hard about is this. Do the Kenyan runners look like they spend a lot of time in the weight room? Doubtful. Their strength comes from high volumes of fast training (not the myth of several hundred mile weeks – though they do cover a bunch) and intensive hill training.

One intensive alternative to weight training is running circuit training. I have all my runners go through 6-8 weeks of this per year. Run 400 intervals @ 77 seconds (his 2 mile pace) with these exercises in between each repetition: sit-ups, push-ups, squats, squat-thrusts, medicine ball throw (the number of reps are individually determined). Immediately after the exercises launch into another 400. Start with 4 reps and move to 8 over the weeks.

My advice is this. If he doesn’t do cross-training (which also can assist with injury prevention) then weight training in a program that is designed for runners is OK. If it interferes with his quality runs (can’t run the reps or the paces required) or it requires that he ditch or dilute running workouts because he is too sore or tired; I’d tell you to stop it. Perhaps it is better left to pre-season or off-season and in the years to come he will be able to handle it.

Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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One Response to Youth Running: How can I help my teen runner get faster?

  1. Pingback: Getting Your Youth Cross Country Runner Faster… Is It Possible? « Track Mom.. “Everything Youth Track and Field”

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