Almost every week, some parent asks me, “At what age can my young athlete start a strength and conditioning program?”
They almost always have concerns about stunting the kid’s growth or getting him/her injured during training. Outdated and largely unfounded ideas about youth training are causing many children and adolescents to miss out on the numerous benefits of a well-designed strength and conditioning program.
The truth is, if age appropriate programming and an intelligent approach to training sessions is used; resistance training, weightlifting, and conditioning programs can safely benefit youth and adolescents in a number of ways. Let’s take a look at the issue by examining the NSCA’s official “Position Stand on Youth Resistance Training”. In that paper, the NSCA cites numerous studies, which conclude conditioning programs and even resistance training to be statistically safer than many other sports and activities in which children regularly participate. They assert a few simple rules for training young athletes, as follow:
- Prepubescent athletes should focus on technique and neuromuscular learning rather than maximal weights.
- Weightlifting technique should be taught with dowels or similar tools until proper technique is achieved before beginning to increase weight conservatively.
- Programming should be intelligently designed to avoid overtraining
- Proper supervision is necessary, as most incidents of injury in youth training occur as a result of unsafe practices.
According to that essay, these are the confirmed benefits of youth strength and conditioning programs:
- Strength gains beyond those associated with normal growth and development.
- Increased kinesthetic awareness and agility. These gains are most notable when training begins early in childhood. Adult trainees struggle to make improvement in these areas to the same extent.
- Reduced risk of injury during competition, because the athlete is better prepared by his/her training.
- Increased speed and sports performance. Help your kid stand out from the increasingly competitive crowd in the battle for playing time and/or athletic scholarships.
- Increase confidence and enjoyment of the young athlete’s chosen sport.
Still worried about some of the “bad” things you’ve heard about youth training? Here are a few common myths, and corresponding research that should help you stop fretting:
- “Won’t weight training stunt my kid’s growth?” – “To date, injury to the growth cartilage has not been reported in any prospective youth resistance training research study. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that resistance training will negatively impact growth and maturation during childhood and adolescence.” – NSCA Position Stand on Youth Training
- “Will Jump Training injure my young athlete?” – The NSCA has concluded that jump training and plyometrics, if intelligently programmed (not too many ground contacts per session) can be a safe and effective means of training for youth and adolescents.
- “Won’t my kid get hurt lifting weights?” – “Current findings from prospective resistance training studies indicate a low risk of injury in children and adolescents who follow age-appropriate training guidelines. In the vast majority of published reports, no overt clinical injuries have been reported during resistance training.” –NSCA Position Stand on Youth Training
So why should your child be missing out? An increased awareness of the science and an increasingly competitive youth sports atmosphere is leading more and more young people to get involved with strength and conditioning training at an early age. Don’t let your child get left behind!
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Faigenbaum, Kraemer, et al., Youth Resistance Training: Updated Position Paper from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Volume 23. August 2009.