The recipe for success in sports has always seemed simple: get bigger, get stronger, get faster. Strength not only helps athletes perform at a higher level, but it can also play a vital role in injury prevention. It is essential to get stronger as an athlete, but when and how should strength be developed? When is weight training appropriate?
In order to answer these questions, we have to tackle a common misconception: weight training is necessary to build muscle and gain strength. Want a bigger chest? Bench press. Want stronger legs? Squat. These are the messages sent to youth-athletes and parents alike, often putting the athlete in danger at a young age. The truth is, you don’t need weights to get stronger!
Before an athlete can begin safely weight training, they should have a strong foundation in strength training. What’s the difference? According to an article from usafootball.com, “Weightlifting emphasizes heavy weights and maximizing lifts to build strength. Strength training uses low resistance and repetition to build strength and conditioning.”
To begin strength training early in a child’s development, he/she should be performing body weight exercises. It is critical that he/she perfect the form of bodyweight exercises before moving on to any kind of weight training. Performing these exercises will help the athlete develop a strong core and foundation to begin light-weight training. Examples of excellent bodyweight exercises include:
After a child perfects body weight exercises, he/she is ready to begin strength training using light weights. However, proceed with caution. An article from menshealth.com states, “Even when kids are ready for weights, the loading is often times imbalanced and that leads to problems down the road.”
Contrary to popular belief; however, using weights at a young age is not going to damage a child’s growth plates if it is done properly. According to Gregory Myer, Ph.D., director of research and The Human Performance Laboratory for the Division of Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, “It is absolutely safe for kids to start lifting weights early in life, provided they do so under a well-designed, supervised program.”
So, is little Billy going to get injured by performing a squat with weight?
No. According to this study from pubmed.gov, resistance training does not increase risk of bone fracture in children. Injuries occur because of a lack of education and the human desire to put as much weight on the bar as possible.
After perfecting bodyweight exercises, a youth-athlete can safely perform exercises with weights that focus on high volume and low intensity. Maximizing reps with minimal weight. The athlete will be able to gain strength while, more importantly, preventing injury.
According to usafootball.com, “By age 16, most athletes are ready for entry-level adult programs, but only if they have gained a basic level of training experience.” If your child has been following a program and feels ready, then at age 16, he/she can begin lifting with low volume and high intensity. This includes compound exercises such as:
The competition in youth sports is continuously growing, requiring youth-athletes to be bigger, stronger, and faster, sooner. Training inevitably provides many benefits (increased performance, injury prevention, healthy blood pressure, stronger bones, improved self-esteem, etc.), but when done improperly early on in a child’s development, it can end up in injury. So, what do you do when your child wants to begin training?
Let them. Just make it your responsibility to make sure they follow a safe and educated program.