12 year old strength and conditioning: reps vs resistance?

My 12 year old lefty pitcher son (just entering 7th grade) has been wanting to workout and get stronger so I’ve done a great deal of learning about strength and conditioning over the past few months. The goal currently is not to optimize 12-year old velocity, but to make him overall much stronger, more resistant to injury, and lay the groundwork for working out at a higher level in high school.

He has been going already for about two months with the following routine on M/W/F:

Warmup 5 minutes (jumping jacks, jump rope, run in place, high knees)

5 sets of the following 5 activities (2 minutes rest between each set)

  • pullups
  • squats (different type each set)
  • crunches or planks (his choice)
  • pushups
  • “special” - this rotates for each set to different things like superman, lunges, catching erratic bouncing ball, etc. - sometimes he just does something totally new for this slot.

And then ends with about 10 minutes of recovery routine.

On T/TH he does running, never more than 1.5 miles, and sometimes it is sprints, sometimes trying to run 1 mile as fast as he can. The intention is never to exceed 2 miles.

So it’s all going well, with reps increasing each week. As a nice bonus side effect, his velocity is increasing. More importantly, he never seems to experience fatigue when pitching any more. But my question is this:

With reps increasing to larger and larger numbers, the workouts are taking longer and longer, approaching 1.5 hours (will probably hit that in 2 weeks at the rate he’s going). Up until now, he has not used any weight except for wall sits where he holds a couple heavy books. Just added a 4 lb medicine ball to some of his squats. But other than that, no weights.

It’s taking so long because he’s now doing the following numbers on each set (approximately - the actual numbers are higher for the 2nd and 5th rounds, lower for other rounds):

Pullups: 9
Squats: 1 minute or 10 jumps
Crunches: 18 (or one minute plank)
Pushups: 30
Special: takes about 1-2 minutes depending on activity

Is it best to keep the number of reps smaller and increased weight at this age? Or is it better to just keep increasing the number of reps?

I do know that pitchers need explosiveness, and that that comes with fewer reps and increased resistance. I fully expect that’s what he’ll do more of after he finished puberty at age 16 or whenever. But he has barely begun puberty and I have not found much information on what to do for pre-pubescent kids who know they want to pitch at a high level in high school eventually.

If it helps - he’s short and light at 4’ 10", 85 lbs. He’s 6 lbs heavier than he was 2 1/2 months ago, when he first starting doing all these calisthenics.

He needs to keep doing high reps set with a lightweight because he’s young and his muscles are not developed enough, when he reaches 15 or 16 he needs to start a heavy work out including heavy deadlifts, squats and lunge.
But i would recommend you should buy him a multivitamin and protein to stimulate his appetite, he needs to gain weight as soon as possible.
And avoid long running, try short explosive sprints of 50m 10 reps per session

LeftyDude - I like your idea of looking into ways to stimulate his appetite. A little internet research showed an easy way to expand how much you can eat - just drink much more water than usual for a few weeks and your stomach will expand, so you’ll be able to eat more before you’re full.

My son does not eat all that much - different metabolism than I had as a kid - I probably ate at least double the amount he does at least in terms of calories per day.

All the other things you mentioned are (roughly speaking) the direction he’s heading so far. Next week I’m going to have a professional strength and conditioning coach meet with him to make sure his form is good for all of his calisthenics, as everything he’s learned is from he or I watching videos.

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Your retaining a strength and conditioning coach is a very savvy move, very savvy. On that note - and please take this from a man who has been to a lot of ball games and have seen things that just didn’t sit well with me.

Baseball can be a great time between father and son. Your pride shows through with every smile, I’ve seen this in so many moms and dads involved in T-Ball. T-Ball … yes T-Ball.

Watch a T-ball game and think of all the crazy things kids do, just being kids. It’s that time in their life when there’s no worry about failing, not reaching their potential, not measuring up to mom and dad’s check book on coaching, $150 bats, $200 gloves, playing fields that your National Guard once used as a bombing range, a lawn chair crowd that teaching kids how to insult umpires, curse like a trooper, and toss all kinds of crap on the field and walk away.

Your son should never get to the point where his work is… work. His betterment must never be betterment, because it’s paid for, and most importantly, he never disappoints you. Never.

Kids have a way of evolving and turning into something different than what others expect or think they see, or should see. During the growing years… around 14 to 16, boys are changing into young men, hormones are playing all kinds of tricks on the mind, body and sprit. So being all thumbs and feet, as it will, can make your son awkward at times and not in step with his training expectations.

By the way, one of the main reasons for a reasonable water intake, is to promote and compliment your son’s digestive system. And in that process, your son’s body will grow itself, at its own pace, and within your son’s body tempo and management. Weight gaining stuff is a risky cocktail. Your son’s internal organs are, and will, grow at their own pace, providing all kinds of secretions and breaking down foods at a certain pace, The liver produces bile that breaks down fats, and the pancreas produces insulin. Insulin is a very important hormone that helps to regulate blood glucose levels.

I’ve witnessed grown, mature men, invent cocktails for all kinds of so-called benefits, and it’s a role of the dice for some.
Just remember, whatever your son decides to commit to, intake wise of foods and supplements, will have a long ranging impact on his health status later on.

A Register Dietitian is the smartest way to go if your going to be writing checks in this direction.

Thanks for your thoughts, Coach_Baker. We actually don’t throw tons of money towards our son’s baseball. I’m just wanting the strength and conditioning guy to meet him once or twice to make sure he’s got good form, isn’t going to hurt himself, and that the kind of stuff he’s doing will support what he wants to do in the long run, which is to pitch at a high a level as he can possibly go.

His interest in baseball has been driven by him, not me, since an early age. Every year I ask him if he wants to sign up for another season of baseball and make it clear that it’s up to him. He thinks it’s stupid that I’m asking him because the answer is always “of course.” He’s the one who took an interest initially in doing calisthenics but didn’t really know what he was doing at first. It started when he got a pullup bar and all he did at first was kept doing pullups to failure which never got him past 4 pullups - now he’s doing 5 sets of 8 or so as described above and steadily getting stronger.

Hopefully we’ll get good advice from the professional strength and conditioning coach. As his reps increase and his workouts keep growing in length, I question if 75-85 minute workouts for a 12-year old make sense, which is why I asked the question.

I do think it’s great though that he’s beginning to establish expectations and routines for working out. I always thought it odd that the normal route is to do no working out whatsoever until HS, and then all of a sudden Freshman are expected to work out 5-10 hours/week, or maybe even more in tougher programs.

As for the baseball itself - he loves the game, and he especially loves to pitch. It’s a joy to watch him play. And it’s a joy to see when he gets it in his head to start working hard at some aspect of his game. At the moment, he (and me!) is (are) learning strength and conditioning.

Your son is very fortunate to have a dad with the ability to let your son scout his own roads. For many youngsters, that’s not the case.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks that I’ve witnessed to a youngster really enjoying what he does on the field, is an extreme spectrum with adult coaching. Either on the spectrum of no experience and those that are overbearing and actually believe they belong in the Majors (MLB). When you find an adult that browbeats the kids, hollers and screams at the kids, it’s time to pack up and leave Dodge. Watch any “pickup game” of kids on their own in a vacant lot, and you’ll see one of the best classrooms for self improvement. In fact, there’s a neighborhood in my hometown where kids don’t have much, and to watch those kids, across the street from a city park, play ball is amazing.

In any event, best wishes to you and your family with the greatest game ever invented.

Coach B.

Reps are only good if done properly. Never sacrifice quality for quantity. For example, you may have 60 balls in your bucket, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw or hit them all at once. Radar guns and swing analysers are handy for guaging when enough is enough.

My questions about the high reps issue were answered by the fitness professional who met with my son and I.

He evaluated my son’s form on many exercises and apart from minor tweaks, form was good . . . learning from youtube videos turned out to be fine for the most part.

The key takeaway though was that he thought going over an hour was excessive for a 12-year-old. He also believed going over 10% of body weight should not be done at this age. So he recommended the following:

  • Use a medicine ball of 4 or 6 lbs in exercises where that makes sense
  • Increase difficulty of exercise

He’s been doing both, but especially the increasing exercise difficulty. Pushups are way too easy for him now . . . 5 sets of 50 pushups takes too much time out of the workout. So instead he does diamond pushups and clapping pushups for some of the sets which are much harder, and therefore fewer reps. He does like to do straight pushups for at least one of his 5 sets each time, so that’s fine too. We’ve made modifications for some of the other exercises too to make them harder.

Frankly, it was a very tedious and time consuming process to learn how to do strength and conditioning. So I wrote up the guide I wish had been available to me when I first started learning about the subject. It’s a comprehensive introduction/guide to strength and conditioning for pre-high-school athletes:

Strength and Conditioning Guide for Pre-High School Athletes (Especially Baseball)