Is Youth Strength Training Safe and Effective?

Is preteen strength training safe? Does strength training stunt youth growth? Won’t they get hurt? Can they handle workload? Will they get results? How does it transfer to game play?

Youth strength training is a highly debated topic that has many myths, questions and concerns. I am here to put these myths to rest and show you that strength training among a youth population aged 6-13 yrs old can be safe and effective.

 

 

Exploration II

 

First and foremost I would like to address the myth on how youth strength training can have negative effects on growth. Studies show that youth strength training can have many beneficial factors such as an increase in bone density, bone health and bone growth with no negative effects associated with growth development. This information is supported by the American College of Sports Medicine, American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine and National Strength and Conditioning Association.

If youth strength training does occurs with improper technique, improper workloads, limited experience and no supervision there is a higher risk for injury including the possibility of damage to youth growth plates. It is key that as a coach or parent you have the knowledge and personal experience of how to execute strength based exercises as well as use age appropriate exercises, workload, rep scheme and cues to ensure safety and success.

 

What exactly is age appropriate in terms of exercises, repetitions, workload, cues and more?

 

When it comes to our youngest age group 6-9 yrs old developing strength is much easier than you think. This age group is still developing basic motor skills. Therefore basic body weight exercises like lunges, jumping or most primal movements can qualify as strength training. To further help 6-9 yrs old discover new movements it is essential to make it fun to practice any given skill.

For example lunges are a great strength based exercise for 6-9 yrs old as it incorporates leg strength and core strength. To make it fun we call our overhead lunges, monster walks where we pretend to be a big scary monster that gets tall and small as he/she walks down the turf and monsters don’t let their knees touch the ground. This make it fun as they practice a great fundamental strength based skill. To help further cue specific exercises be creative and make it fun. With monster walks we will ask to see their scary monster face to help them keep eyes up and chest proud as they hold strong posterior when they execute the exercise. Monster walks are just one example, think of other body weight based movements through all planes of motion like Frog Hops, Lateral Gorilla Walks, Bear Crawls, Jump Rope and more as they will assist a 6-9 yr old in getting strong all around and from top to bottom.

 

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As we continue the 10-13 yr old age group is most often pressured to start weight training to get a competitive edge on their opponents. With this age group it is important for us to help them start to build a solid foundation that will have an impact on them as they grow and develop naturally. We will focus on body weight based exercises like squats, lunges, bear crawls, planks and push-ups to ensure they can control their own body weight when in challenging positions. We can start to be more specific with our cues but don’t overwhelm your athletes as you should focus on no more than 2 of the most critical aspects of the exercise. When they begin to develop confidence and build strong movement patterns we will start to incorporate appropriate external loads. An external load is an outside factor that will have an impact on the given skill or exercise. In this scenario our first step is to introduce resistance band based exercises starting with fixed point exercises such as tug of war rows, assisted push ups or resisted presses. In order to progress skills try non-fixed exercises or partner drills like wall pull apart, standing overhead push press, partner runs, partner lunges and much more.

Some of our advanced level 10-13 yr old who’ve built solid foundations and movement patterns have been given the opportunity to move beyond the resistance band and introduced to free weight exercises like dumbbell box squats, dumbbell RDL, KB swings and weighted hip lifts.No need to go too heavy…groove a strong movement pattern with light external loads to help build the foundation now that will allow them to excel in the weight room and beyond. Finally when using external loads like resistance bands and free weights it is extremely important that you lay down the rules of using any given exercise tool as well as use age appropriate resistance, sets and repetitions as safety is priority.

 

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Important things to consider with this 10-13 yr old age group is they are extremely diverse across the board from video gamer’s to club sport athletes we personally have chosen to divide this group into two level classes allowing us to meet our youth where they are physically, mentally and socially. Also their bodies are making big changes causing mobility issues and aches or pains while dealing with added stress. It is essential to meet your athletes where they are on that given day as there is no need to force previously planned strength training for this age group as our main focus is to maintain or increase movement efficiency, make exercise or training fun and teach healthy habits because that is what will have an immediate impact on the field, track, court or ice.       

 

While we try to build a foundation for all our younger aged athletes as we enter the 14+ age group we tend to see a wider variety of experience and ability levels. This age group is considered physically mature enough to start traditional strength training but it is extremely important to build a solid foundation by starting simple and working your way up as we don’t wanna cause more harm than good.

With the pressure to compete at a high level weight training can be essential for a  high school athletes success but it’s not all about “how much?” or “how many?” but in fact about “how well?. If you can build a solid foundation and work your way up, you will minimize plateau’s, increase strength, increase injury resistance, increase power as well as maximize the amount of skill transferred from the gym to the actual game .

 

High School Strength

 

Overall, youth strength training is safe and effective for all age groups as long as age appropriate application applies. First help the 6-9 yr old discover movement patterns through all planes of motion using strictly body weight and by making it fun. Give the 10-13 yr old the opportunity to explore, ask questions and start to give short explanations as to why and how to execute given exercises. Focus on body weight movement efficiency and start to introduce resistance bands, hang trainers and light free weights. Finally when the athlete reaches the high school group it is important to set goals, give responsibility, explain how to execute skill, how it transfers to games as well as discuss how real results take hard work, dedication, good nutrition and safe effective training. In conclusion strength training at any age level has potential risks when executed poorly but when in an age appropriate setting strength training carries many benefits for all ages.

 

“Train Smarter not necessarily Harder”

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