“Lifting when you’re young stunts your growth”
“Kids lifting weights is unsafe”
“It is bad for their maturing joints”
These are all comments from parents who most likely have spent copious amounts of money on their childrens medical bills during their brief teenage athletic career.
The fact of the matter is, the “dangers” of youth strength training have been scientifically debunked and it is now time that we shift our focus from RE-habilitation to PRE-habilitation. The youth years (pre-puberty) are an essential time to build a base of body awareness, bone density, stability, strength, and coordination in our kids. A properly planned strength, agility, and conditioning program can help a young athlete construct a bulletproof foundation for the future. Most athletes who struggle with injuries in their teenage and college years do so because this prime layer of basic coordination, strength, and stability was never put together during their pre-pubescent years. In my opinion, asking an athlete to play 2 doubleheaders on the weekend, or 3 lacrosse games during a tournament is not necessarily the athlete being over-worked… we may have to take a different perspective and realize that the athlete is actually being undertrained for their specific needs.
This is where an understanding of human development and physiology comes into play…
It should no longer be a secret that a well put together intro to youth strength training program has numerous beneficial affects on athletic development and physical maturity. The purpose of youth strength training is to:
1) Prime neural pathways for athletic movements
2) Teach the body how to tolerate and handle an external force (as well as the force of just the body itself)
3) Improve bone density through progressive loading (gradual improvement overtime)
4) Improve ligament and tendon density, while teaching them how to be stable, and when to be mobile.
5) Improve coordination, balance, speed, power, strength, and side to side quickness (agility)
And most importantly…
6) Build a foundation to prevent imbalances and injuries in the future!!
Youth strength training is a slow, long term progression, which should start with bodyweight movement patterns to enhance overall coordination and control before moving to the weights.
YES WEIGHTS ARE OKAY FOR KIDS!!!
And very beneficial too! Once primed for the movement patterns it is immensely important for a young athlete to learn how to handle resistance training (under supervision of a coach). The initial introduction into youth weight training will provide extremely quick results; that being said, these results will mostly be neural at first moreso than muscular… This means the youth athletes central nervous system will acquire the skills to stabilize, coordinate, and control movements. After this neural improvement occurs the athlete will then be in a position to build strength…
Anybody who has ever taken time off from strength training knows that the hardest part of returning is being able to stabilize the weight. This is because the neural pathways have lost their efficiency to execute these movements. For example, you are on a strength training plan.. you worked up to a new personal record of 225 on the bench press… then life gets in the way and you try to get back into it 4 months later… you laid back under the bench and prepare to fire off a set of 5 at 135 lbs.. but when you take the bar off the rack your arms feel like 2 noodle waving in the wind.. the weight does not seem heavy but you cannot help but shake and wobble underneath the weight.. this is how a young athlete feels during their intro to strength because the nervous system has not properly figured out how to coordinate its motor pathways and fine movements. 3 weeks later the weights are stable and the athlete is begging to jump up in weight!! Just like an older athlete or adult getting back into weight training it takes a few weeks for the young athlete to train their central nervous system to be in full control. Once this base is built, handling weights with a gradual progression will improve the bone density, joint function, ligament/tendon durability, and improve the athletes power, strength and explosiveness on the field!
Without this base an athlete is at a much higher risk for joint issues, ligament tears, soft tissue injuries, and physical/mental burnouts during athletic competition. Our goal is to mitigate these future issues by building up an athletic base EARLY ON!!