Unlike most trending topics and buzzwords, LTAD is worthy of the attention it has garnered in recent years. “Long-Term Athletic Development” is a concept that is crucial to understand if and when you are dealing with high school students and athletes.
But what does it mean?
Long story short, LTAD refers to a practical approach to fitness and athletic education. It takes physical activity and teaches it like we do any other subject: through progression and planning.
Below we outline what we believe such a plan should look like for the average middle/high school student over the course of their schooling.
*Please note that what follows does not cover the entire spectrum of accepted LTAD progression, just that which is relevant to the Middle or High School teacher/coach.*
Phase 1: Learn to Train (Grades 6-8)
Without a doubt, the single most important key to this entire equation is a proper education. It is the foundation upon which all will be built – it is also the most often overlooked.
If we want our kids, classes, and teams to succeed, we must remember that we are dealing with kids. Most have little to no experience in the world of fitness and training. If we want to progress to advanced techniques and programs, we must first build a solid foundation for all.
“You wouldn’t try and teach calculus to a student before he or she had learned algebra. Nor should you attempt to train an athlete with advanced programs and movements before you cement the mechanics of a simple air squat.”
The trick to this education is progression. Start from the ground up and work from there, always looking to be better – know more, than the day before.
Everyone, and we do mean everyone, should learn the foundational human movements. Squatting, Pressing, Pulling, Lunging, Hinging, Running/Walking/Carrying – they are all essential to human life, let alone athletic development. Knowing what they are, and how to execute them properly is paramount to long term health and performance.
Skipping this step would be like trying to build a house upon a foundation of sand.
Arguably the most important component of their entire fitness education is helping each student and athlete come to an understanding of their own abilities – their strengths and weaknesses. Taking ownership of one’s ability is a lesson for life and it allows us to maximize the training later on. We instill an understanding of how to scale movements appropriately, what loading and volume is doable, and how to adjust workouts to accommodate injuries or logistical issues.
It is this understanding, this self-awareness that is paramount if we want each and every one of our students to truly reap the best results from their training moving forward.
Throughout this phase, our “training” is marked by a focus on understanding and execution. Intensity is NOT the goal, here.
Step 2: Train to Train (Grades 8-10)
After setting proper foundations, we progress to more compound movements, begin to introduce external objects and resistance, and up the intensity a bit. The goal is to build a bit of work capacity.
We learned how to safely and efficiently move, now we are learning what it means to “train”.
Now our work includes an element of challenge. We want to begin to push our students and athletes out past their comfort zone.
At PLT4M, we first do so by beginning to make workouts task- or time-based, adding an inherent personal or interpersonal competitiveness that spurs motivation. Volume increases as well, becoming true “work” that forces bodies and minds to adapt over time.
“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”
All the while, adding this variety makes things more fun for the students. Learning new things, challenging oneself and each other, should always be a part of the process if we want to see continual improvement.
Additionally, we begin introducing new compound movements or adding light resistance to existing movement patterns.
We can take the air squat and progress through goblet squats and then convert it into a loaded back squat. Slowly, we will develop a competency here, never sacrificing movement, while increasing the intensity through load. Eventually, we can even arrive at a loose 1RM for each student that will allow them to direct their more advanced training in the future.
You cannot underestimate the importance of a student’s awareness of their own strength or capacity. No matter who he or she is, an athlete should be learning what it means to develop ability over time through targeted training.
Step 3: Train to Compete (Grades 10-12)
At PLT4M, we believe everyone engaged in fitness or training is an “athlete”. Whether they are looking for a competitive edge in sports, or looking to simply be the best, healthiest version of themselves, we can now direct our training with “purpose”.
If a student is involved in, and dedicated to, competitive athletics, we can and should offer them the ability to train for performance.
At PLT4M, we are advocates of a holistic approach to performance training that aims to develop a complete athlete. Our programs are designed to grow power output through strength development and dynamic movement like plyometrics and Olympic lifts, build full-body control and prevent injury through mobility and stabilization work, and increase our mental and physical capacities through targeted but holistic conditioning. This means we don’t specialize or program by sport.
Once the athlete has committed to performance training, the only question left is whether or not they are currently in a competitive season (read more on our distinction on that concept here).
Fitness shouldn’t end after a student’s initial education. Just because he or she is not engaged in athletic competition doesn’t mean they shouldn’t or couldn’t be intensely engaged with physical training. Exercise, or hard work, is hard-wired into our DNA, and its benefits are endless.
As with athletic performance training, when it comes to the pursuit of “fitness”, balance is ever the key. Strength can stave off decrepitude, but conditioning can fight chronic disease, while mobility can prevent injury. All fields of fitness play a part of the full equation and nothing exists as “most important” to a healthy lifestyle. Thus, we want to train it all.
We want to provide everyone, regardless of personal goals, with various approaches to holistic, but purposeful training.
Step 4: Train for Life (All Ages)
Perhaps the most important “Phase”, this one is not meant to happen at any one specific time. Rather, it should pervade your entire perspective and approach.
We tend to forget that, when it comes to fitness and training at the high school level, the athletes in question are just plain young and inexperienced. Our primary objective is to provide them with the tools necessary to live a life of mental and physical well-being.
Most of life exists beyond high school.
Often, especially when athletics gets involved, we tend to forget this most important rule. We get lost in the day to day, or we’re too focused on our own personal goals.
If the senior captain football player is afraid to run a mile because he’s too focused on getting as big as possible, or the volleyball player is back squatting under load to increase her vertical jump before eliminating valgus knee collapse from her squat or jumping technique – we’ve done our athletes a serious disservice.
They are sacrificing lasting success in the long-term, for the perceived advantageous results in the short-term.
Don’t overthink it…if your kids are educated, motivated, and active, you have done your job.
Always keep the big picture in mind. We owe it to them as young athletes, as well as young adults who need to go on living healthy lives long after they leave our team or class.