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.





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.




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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Biggest Loser To Train Kids…

Has the ‘Biggest Loser’ Jumped the Shark?

The Popular Extreme Weight Loss TV Show Sets Its Sights on Children

On September 4th 2012 the Associated Press Reported that in the shows 14th season “The Biggest Loser” will have children between the ages of 13 to 17 engage in trying to lose weight and get in shape. I like many other professional trainers and coaches in the fitness industry have strong opinions regarding the motivational techniques utilized on the show. In addition, the validity of the exercise programming and coaching of proper technique also comes into question.

My response today is intended to be neutral as well as based on the most important participants of the report I read… the children.  The underlying principles of coaching/training young children should be rooted in human development, physical culture and physical literacy. A coach can affect the overall well being of the children they serve. All coaches have the opportunity to leave an indelible mark on a child. The choice must be made as to whether it will be positive or negative.

First and foremost, the premise of the show is incredible transformation.  Physical and often positive psychological changes are witnessed by millions of viewers, inspiring even the laziest of couch potatoes to start leading a healthier life style.

Fat loss is the hook that has us tuning in. In this case ‘the fight against childhood obesity’ is the catalyst for viewership. The inherent issue I have here is that childhood obesity NOT the problem. It is a symptom of much larger problems plaguing our nation…lack of play, lack of physical activity, lack of sleep and poor nutrition.  As young children enter into adolescence without having explored and discovered movement and the fun of physical play, they do so with no sense of physical culture.

My fear is that the children on this show will see more of the same as the adults only in a watered down version. For kids 11-17 to be taught the brutality of metabolic training, the boredom associated with long bouts of cardiovascular exercise, or the tiresome repetitiveness of weight machine circuits would be a travesty.

What they will be learning remains to be seen. My hope is that the foundation is developmentally appropriate movement skill acquisition combined with as much fun as they can handle. Teaching these children pain free and fluid movement combined with the joy that comes from feeling energized and accomplished can last a lifetime.

In the same article published by the Associated Press, the popular Jillian Michaels is quoted as saying the producers of the show “are ‘incredibly sensitive’ to safeguarding them”. The new mom and trainer for the show also remarked, “…it’s going to be controversial, and we’ll do the best we can to handle it in the most positive and effective way possible.”

Once again, this remains to be seen. My question is what qualifies Ms. Michaels to coach young children?  This is not an attack on Ms. Michaels. Being incredibly sensitive will mean more than merely not being weighed for the broadcast. Let’s face it. Her track record is not that of the sensitive type.  Here are a few things to ponder as you watch the show for yourself to evaluate the approach being taken by all the trainers involved.

Is there in fact an awareness of the communicative styles, physical limitations/considerations as well as the some of the internal factors associated with the psychology of children 11-17 years old?

Communicatively, most of the young participants will likely display varied physical ability and moderate to low motivation. These contestants need to be inspired and guided. If they are delegated to or simply instructed it will be a nightmare for the trainers and more importantly the kids.  Furthermore, any instance exercise intended as a punishment is a sure sign of ignorance as it pertains to training young children.

The changes a child goes through during normal human development are filled with ingredients that create a vast separation between the approaches of training adults versus children. That said it is very likely that even 2 children the same age could have a 5-6 year difference in development. How? Growth spurts aside, two 13 year old boys could be separated by one being a couple years ahead of his chronological and the other behind.  A potential 6-year gap does not simply equate to lessening the weights used from one child to another.

From a biosocial perspective – aside from already knowing they are different physically from their peers they are also responding in some manner to other biological changes to their bodies. Kinesthetically they are aware of their bodies in varying degrees.

Psychosocially these young contestants are learning social skills, self-efficacy, and the concept of fairness in addition to adjusting emotionally.

Cognitively kids are processing abstract ideas such as health and fitness, diet, and transferring what they already know (correct or incorrect) and applying it to new experiences.

My question remains are Jillian Michaels, Bob Harper and Dolvett Quince prepared for what they are embarking on?

There is one statement printed in the AP report that I do take exception with.  Here it is in its entirety:

The goal is to focus on the kids’ health rather than their weight, Michaels said, adding, “It’s about getting them on the softball team, not into a size four.”

I could not disagree more. The focus should neither be getting them into a size 4 nor on the softball team. Weight loss will be an additional benefit if the approach is to serve the best interest of the kids.  Fat loss will be realized no matter the strategy. Fat loss alone under the guide of medical professionals and 3 months of a sound meal plan and intense exercise will elicit fat loss every time. The how is the most critical aspect of long-term success through a physical culture.

If these children gain the confidence to pursue softball or any other sport for that matter then that is a bonus.  This mentality also accentuates a paradigm that physical activity should include an organized sport. The primary goals, at the expense of sounding repetitive, must be to establish a physical culture and developing physical literacy in these children. Weigh loss alone as a mission to combat childhood obesity is merely a Band-Aid.

My last point will be directed toward the apparent plan to have at least one young contestant mixed in with each team of 6 six adults. For all of the reasons listed above I remain neutral yet skeptical until I view the show for myself.

There are far more factors to consider than what I have mentioned in this brief writing. Add in adults who are waging war against their own internal battles in addition to being obese with growing children and a potentially ill-equipped training staff…I hope and pray the producers, the trainers, the medical staff, and the childhood obesity experts will create the optimal environment.

Ms. Michaels has given us all a bit of wonder with her admitting “I’m not going to make any promises” in the AP article in regard to her over all and hard hitting approach.

When the show airs in January we will all see young miracles make big changes on NBC.  From what I have read from the Associated Press, there is a tremendous opportunity to positively affect the live of the contestants and thousands of young children who may tune in…I know this – I will be watching. Will you?


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