Ok, but seriously. This is one of the most asked questions that I receive, and also one of the most unfounded assumptions based in years of self-perpetuating, bad information. So let take a look at the arguments AGAINST strength training for youth.
They’ll get hurt:
This is true of any age if the program is not properly structured to take into account physical ability and mental maturity. If the gradient is too challenging for technical and physiological adaptation, than we open the athletes up to risk.
Strength and conditioning programs for youth can protect against injury in young athlete’s, the same way they do for our adolescent and adult athletes. By improving strength, stability and coordination we can build a robust and resilient young athlete. In fact, “reports of injuries related to strength training, including epiphyseal plate fractures and lower back injuries, are primarily attributed to the misuse of equipment, inappropriate weight, improper technique, or lack of qualified adult supervision.” ¹
It will stunt their growth:
The idea here is that somehow by putting weight in the athletes hands, or on their back, we will compress the growth plates… or something to that effect.
Weight lifting does not stunt growth. ² In fact, since the majority of bone development happens in youth, the addition of strength training could lead to increased bone density. There is also some support for the priming of the hormonal system, providing greater access to the hormones responsible for post-puberty adaptation.
Children Should Only Do Body Weight:
This goes back to the safety thing. The thought being that if we don’t load them, then they will be safer. Things I hear like less stress on the joints or it will be hard on their back. Because kids never jump out of tress!
Again, the “any program that does not considered the individual is dagerous,” argument. If we introduce movement patterns in a progressive gradient focused on skill acquisition, we improve the athletes strength mainly via the improvement of neuralmuscular control. If we consider the compressive force of jumping and and sprinting (which we encourage kids to do), through strengthening, we are providing the athlete with opportunities to better absorb force and in turn protect the joints. The more force we can produce the more we must be able to absorb, meaning there is a need for progressive overload.
The Bottom Line
Working with young athletes in the gym should be about promoting a positive relationship with physical activity, with the goal of encouraging lifelong health and wellness. It should be about building confidence, maintaining movement competency and having fun. Ultimately whether or not to incorporate traditional ‘resistance’ training depends on the individuals emotional maturity and ability to demonstrate the patience and attention to detail required to safely work with more advanced modalities and structures. Running, jumping, throwing, catching, hanging and climbing are all “resistance” and as such can be leveraged to challenge those not quite ready for more traditional methods (and conversely SHOULD be used for those who are). But, inherently and biologically there is nothing to prevent athletes of any age from “training” or “lifting weights.”
Thank you as always for reading. If you found value in what you read, please share and comment. I love feedback, so please let’s get the conversation going!
The Athlete Defender!