Youth Strength Training Do's and Don'ts
Parents ask me this question all the time: "Should my child lift weights?" If lifting weights means strength training, and the child is around 10 or older, the answer is yes.
Youth strength training does not mean lifting heavy weights. It can include bodyweight exercises, resistance bands, medicine balls, dowel rods and light dumbbells. When strength training is supervised by a certified professional, it can provide huge benefits, not only for performance but for injury prevention as well.
Youth strength training can start as young as 8, but most kids start at 10, when they have better body awareness and can follow directions well.
When a young athlete begins strength training, he or she must focus on proper technique for each lift. It's best to start with bodyweight exercises, then add resistance as the child gets stronger and improves his or her technique.
In the article "Why Youth Strength and Conditioning Matters," Rick Howard says it's important for prepubescent kids to develop healthy habits for safe resistance training and focus on technical performance rather than adding weight. As young athletes enter their teen years, they can place more emphasis on adding weight to develop muscular strength, as long as the weight is controlled throughout the entire lift with no breakdown of proper form.
In the article "Strength Training: OK for Kids?" the Mayo Clinic provides a list of benefits strength training provides:
- Increase the child's muscle strength and endurance
- Protect the child's muscles and joints from sports-related injuries
- Improve the child's performance in any sport
- Strengthen the child's bones
- Promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Improve the child's confidence and self-esteem
Strength training in young athletes also helps prevent muscle and joint injury. In the journal article, "Promoting Musculoskeletal Fitness in Youth: Performance and Health Implications From a Developmental Perspective," David Stodden and Toby Brooks see a positive relationship between improved strength and neuromuscular coordination and control, and a reduction in severe knee injuries (primarily the anterior cruciate ligament). With strength training, young athletes develop better control of their bodies and can change direction in their sports with less risk.
How do you start a strength training program for young athletes? Some facilities offer sports performance-based training with professionals. Many trainers and coaches have college degrees in Kinesiology or Exercise Science, and most have certifications as strength and conditioning specialists from the National Strength and Conditioning Association or as performance enhancement specialists from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
The Mayo Clinic provides several tips on starting young athletes in a strength training program. The first tip: remember, a child's program is not a scaled-down version of an adult program. Just because it's something you may do at the gym doesn't mean it's good for your young athlete.
The second tip is to seek instruction from a sports performance coach or trainer who has experience working with young athletes and is certified.
Mayo Clinic's other tips:
- Warm up and cool down
- Keep it light
- Stress proper technique
- Rest between workouts
- Keep it fun