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Why Youth Strength Training

“Should my child lift weights?” is a question I’ve been asked many times over the years.  Commonly I’ll respond saying a young child can begin resistance training as early as his/her attention span allows for it.  This does NOT imply lifting heavy weights.  It should include bodyweight exercises (i.e. calisthenics), medicine balls, resistance bands, body bars and even light dumbbells.  Furthermore, if strength training is coached by a certified professional, it can provide large benefits for both performance and injury prevention, all while keeping things fun.

Youth strength training should be all about technical improvement.  He or she will start with bodyweight exercises, only adding weight as the child gets stronger using proper form.  Prepubescent kids need to develop good habits early on for safe resistance training later.  Upon entering their teen years, young athletes can place more priority on adding weight to develop muscular strength, as long as the weight is controlled throughout the entire movement with no breakdown in form.  Strength coaches refer to this as ‘technical failure’.  It should be the gold standard prior to adding heavier weights or more challenging exercises.

The benefits of strength training for youth include:

  • increased muscular strength and endurance
  • performance enhancement in his or her sport
  • protecting muscles and joints from sports-related injuries
  • creating better muscle symmetry to minimize the chances for injury
  • strengthening a child’s growing bones
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • aiding in improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • helping to foster greater confidence and self-esteem

Each year there appears to be more and more muscle and joint-related injuries among young athletes.  Strength training through technique-driven fundamental movement patterns (i.e. squat, lunge, etc.) can lead to better neuromuscular coordination and control as well as a decrease in severe knee injuries (primarily the anterior cruciate ligament).  Team sports require as much east-west as north-south movement.  Efficient body control through increased strength will help your child change direction in his or her sport with more ease and less risk for injury.

The center of gravity for teenage athletes moves further up from the ground as they grow.  This accounts for much of the ‘lapse’ in coordination that’s often seen in kids during their growth spurts.  Just a small dose of strength training can go a long way to help young kids maintain the center of gravity within the base of support (lumbo-pelvic-hip area).  Furthermore, he or she will feel more comfortable competing in the classic athletic base position (hip and knee flexion), critical to optimal power output in the sports setting.

Please keep in mind that a child’s strength training program should NEVER be a scaled-down version of an adult program.  Just because it’s something that may be appealing to the average gym-goer doesn’t mean it’s good for a 10-year old.  Seek instruction from a sports performance coach that is certified and has experience working with young athletes.