Elite youth teams face a unique set of challenges in their quest to improve players' strength, speed and power. Because their bodies are still developing, many strength and conditioning programs spec’d for elite athletes simply aren’t appropriate for younger athletes. But bodyweight-based movements on the TRX can be scaled to suit people of any age or level of physical ability, including 12 year old softball players. Just ask exercise physiologist and training guru Paul Knapp.
Knapp has been a pioneer during his 19 year career as an exercise physiologist, personal trainer and public health educator for civilians and service members. In his role as Fitness and Wellness Specialist for the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, he was responsible for the development of the Semper Fit Program.
Today, he continues his work with service members in his role as exercise physiologist at the Naval Amphibious Base in Little Creek, Virginia and is a personal trainer as well. Involved with TRX since its inception, Knapp recognized the value of TRX Suspension Training early on and has used the TRX to train a broad variety of service members including Navy SEALS.
Now Knapp finds himself pioneering new territory for the TRX through his work with the elite Virginia Lady Aces. One of Knapp's daughters plays for the Aces, a tough group of highly ambitious 12 year old fast pitch softball players. “Once I started training my guys at the base on the TRX, the Lady Aces’ coach asked me to train the girls,” says Knapp. He saw the TRX as a good fit for the team’s athletic objectives so he stepped up to the plate and developed a TRX protocol specifically tasked to the Lady Aces’ needs. “The TRX is all core, all the time, and that's what these girls are doing. When they swing a bat, it's all bat speed and power, and that's all core.”
For the past year, Knapp has trained the Aces on the TRX two days a week. “I took the nine top exercises I thought these girls could handle so they wouldn't have to shorten and lengthen it or go into single handle mode.” These exercises included:
TRX Overhead Back Extension
TRX Chest Press
TRX Squat Row
TRX Hip Drop
TRX Low Row
TRX Hamstring Curl
TRX Triceps Press
TRX Biceps Curl
Once the girls became proficient at the first nine exercises, they added the TRX Pike, TRX Balance Lunge and TRX Plank. The Aces use the TRX for 15 to 20 minutes two times per week. In season, the girls perform sets and reps to build strength. Off season, they perform timed sets to build muscular endurance and bolster conditioning.
To make the movements as functional as possible, Knapp has the Lady Aces perform them while in the same batting or fielding stances they use while playing. “It was a month before I could stop giving cues, then we increased resistance by having them get closer to the fence with their feet. They don't understand the Vector Resistance Principle™, but if you say give me a batter's stance, they understand that.”
Knapp uses just six TRXs to train the entire team with half of the team performing movements while the other half recovers or performs other training. Finding space to set up the TRXs has been easy, says Knapp, because no matter where they play, they have a chain link fence to anchor the systems.
Using the TRX has enabled the Lady Aces to make marked improvements in their performance at an age when other forms of training simply aren’t appropriate. “We can’t get them in a weight room at their age, but the TRX is great. We’ve seen an increase in speed. We’ve seen a 70% to 80% improvement in their strength from when we started last August. We had girls who couldn't do two crunches, and now we're up to 20. We had girls who couldn't do push-ups, and now they have their feet on the fence while they're doing chest presses. They're kicking out 20 easily.”
While strength and conditioning isn’t usually the favorite pastime of Little League softball players, Knapp has found that the Lady Aces enjoy their time on the TRX. “I never really thought 12 year old girls would have been this into it, but they are. One of the girls talked her parents into buying her a TRX for Christmas.”
The Lady Aces had an opportunity to put their fitness to the test when they went head-to-head with a team of 16 year olds on the TRX. “The 16 year olds couldn’t keep up with them. They smoked them.” After seeing the impressive athletic performance of the 12 year olds, the 16 year olds are now clamoring to train on the TRX too. And they're not alone.
"Every time we use the TRX, other team coaches ask me what it is and if it works. All I need to say is, 'Well, we're in first place right now, so it can't hurt!'" Knapp plans to continue his winning streak with the TRX, using it at softball training camps at Virginia Wesleyan College and Christopher Newport University this summer.
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