Strength Training My Youth Athlete…..Is It Ok?
We often get asked when is the right time for a youth athlete to start strength training. There are many factors to consider, from maturity, interest, to goals of the youth athlete, when considering strength training for a youth athlete. But when implemented appropriately, children can start strength training as early as 7 or 8 years young.
The Benefits of Strength Training
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines, children should get about an 1 hour a day of moderate physical activity. Children learn body awareness, balance, and coordination by simply playing. Examples of activities can include riding bikes, skateboarding, roller skating, walking, and dancing. These guidelines also recommend bone and muscle strengthening 3 times a week. These activities can include swinging on playground equipment to a more formal strength training program that is appropriate for their age and abilities. Adding strength training can be a valuable component to a child’s overall long term fitness.
Appropriate strength training for youth has many benefits for athletes and non-athletes including:
- Increasing your child’s muscle strength and endurance
- Helping protect your child’s muscles and joints from sports-related injuries
- Helping improve your child’s performance in nearly any sport, from dancing and figure skating to football and soccer
- Developing proper techniques that your child can continue to use as he or she grows older
In addition to athletic benefits, overall benefits that both athletes and non-athletes can benefit from include:
- Strengthening your child’s bones
- Helping promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Helping your child maintain a healthy weight
- Improving your child’s confidence and self-esteem
Proper Youth Strength Training
When thinking about strength training, it doesn’t mean body building or using advanced strength training movements or any actual weights either. Using body weight and resistance bands are simple but very effective strength training tools especially for youth athletes. Youth strength training programs should not be a smaller version of an adult’s strength training program. It should be individualized on the basis of age, maturity, personal goals and objectives. Frequency, type of resistance, intensity, and duration must be programmed properly to ensure the youth’s safety. It is recommended that youth keep sets to about 2 sets and repetitions kept to less than 15.
When a training plan is not planned properly and too much load is used to quickly, it can put too much strain on young muscles, tendons and areas of cartilage that haven’t yet turned to bone (growth plates) — especially when proper technique is sacrificed in favor of lifting larger amounts of weight. However, it must be emphasized that appropriate strength training programs don’t have apparent adverse effects on linear growth, growth plates, or the cardiovascular system. Negative impacts on growth plates is something that can result from poor form, weights that are too heavy, and a lack of supervision. But it’s not the result of proper strength training or lifting weights correctly. In fact, all growing children are at risk for growth plate injuries. Growth plate fractures account for 15% – 30% of all childhood fractures and most growth plate fractures are often caused by a single event, such as a fall or car accident – 20% happen during regular recreational activities such as biking, skateboarding, skiing.
Whether you child is an athlete or non-athlete, they will benefit from an appropriate strength training program. Not only will it help them develop stronger bones and muscles, most importantly it will build a fitness habit that can serve the child well throughout life.