We have come a long, long way when answering the question of “Should Youth Athletes Strength Train”, when it comes down to optimal sports performance…
There was a day when athletes were forbidden to lift weights because their coaches thought it would slow them down and make them slow.
So they had their athletes compete in their sport without doing any strength training…
I’m so glad as a society we’ve moved past that and realized the importance of strength training for all athletes…
Yet strength training for youth athletes needs to be specific to the growth and development of that particular athlete.
How Should a Youth Athlete Train?
A popular theory is that lifting too early will hurt the child or stunt the child’s growth. The lifting itself will not stunt a child’s growth. What could affect the growth is if the child lifts incorrectly (this can be said for any age), with too much weight, and then hurts the growth plates.
A youth athlete should never train like a professional athlete. A youth athlete isn’t ready for the same types of exercises that a professional athlete uses. They should also not exercise like adults going for general fitness.
Instead, youth athletes need exercises and programming that fit their current stage of physical and emotional development... for long-term athletic development and to reduce burnout.
So what about elementary school, middle school and high school athletes… should they train differently from one another?
An elementary school athlete has needs that are uniquely different from their older middle school and high school athletes. In fact, middle school athletes and high school athletes are unique from each other and their programming should be different as well.
Back to the original question… should they lift weights?
But lifting weights vs. training for sports can be very different things. It makes no sense to have a bunch of youth athletes doing bench presses and barbell curls and few crunches and expect athletic results.
Different Developmental Stages Require Different Training
Elementary school aged athletes are still developing gross motor skills. The exercises that they do should help them improve not only strength but overall coordination. They should be put into several situations that makes their bodies move so that they develop control of their bodies. Speed and strength are an after thought at this age.
Middle school athletes are experiencing growth spurts and starting to hit puberty. This stage in life leaves them in a unique training position. Due to extreme growth spurts and long bone growth, they aren’t quite ready for the type of training that high school athletes should perform. Middle school athletes will need to focus on exercises that safely allow them to train their body while it continues growing.
High school athletes will take a shift towards strength training that will maximize lean muscle development as well as strength, speed and power. They also need to focus on range of motion. This can be lost in the developmental years. High school athletes can be more aggressive with strength training but must have a program that is well-rounded and hits all facets of sports development: strength, speed, power, balance, flexibility and range of motion.
For these reasons here at Strive Fitness and Performance, we like to have unique strength training programs for elementary, middle and high school athletes. The important thing to remember here is that we are developing the total athlete at each stage… not trying to get sport-specific in their training. The sport coach has the job of making the athlete a better player at that sport….It is our job to make them a better athlete; to be able to move better, stay on the court and be a dominate athlete.
No matter what level your youth athlete is in, if you train them for overall athleticism instead of sport-specific training like the pros, you will have a more successful overall athlete who incurs less injuries.
Committed to your success,