We are starting to see younger athletes with more injuries and joint pain, whether they are very active or not. There are a few factors that play into this: sport specialization at a young age, absence of foundational strength, and lack of body control and knowledge of proper movement patterns. Sport specialization is conversation for another time. I want to focus on foundational strength and the need for adolescents to being resistance training.
Why should my kid lift weights?
For the same reason that you do, or should! For the athletes, adding strength training will improve performance, decrease the likelihood of an injury, and set them up for success later in life. The athletes will be more competitive in their age group by becoming faster, stronger and more resilient. It has been shown that young athletes can increase strength between 30-50%. Although we don’t think much about injury prevention until it is too late, this should be a huge focus for youth athletes!
The adolescents who are not participating in sports or find themselves on the other end of the spectrum will also benefit greatly. Adding resistance training with physical activity promotes bone health, appropriate blood pressure and glucose levels and assists in maintaining a healthy weight. The benefits of lifting weights can be concrete, but it can also increase confidence and self-esteem! I know most kids could use a boost in the middle school and high school times.
When is the appropriate time to start?
There is not a hard-set age that an adolescent should begin weight training. Some researchers have used children as young as 8 years old while others start around 10 years old. It is important to gauge the maturity of the boy or girl—skeletal and behavioral. It is important that they can follow directions and understand how to move properly. Just as I say in nearly every blog post: it is not lifting weights that will cause an injury, it is moving improperly!
What type of resistance training is best?
This, again, will depend on maturity and interest. While there are kiddos out there starting Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, a basic strength training regimen may be appropriate for others. Each of these will promote the desired health and strength impact. Foundational strength should initially be the focus- squats, deadlifts, overhead pressing. Later in the teens, athletes will begin to specialize and the mode of training should be tailored to their sport. Volleyball players need explosive power, football linemen require more foundational strength and power while cross country runners require muscular endurance and strength.
Check out this kid. He is a 13-year-old Olympic lifter would can throw around some serious weight! I guarantee he has strong bones, increased lean muscle mass compared to his peers and would be more resilient in demanding situations.
How often should they train?
Training frequency can be as low as twice per week to still reap the benefits and see results. Keep in mind, the frequency would ideally ebb and flow with their sport season. For those that are not in organized sports, twice a week is a great start.
Are they more likely to be injured?
A common concern about youth resistance training is increased incidence of injury and growth plate fracture. With proper equipment, instruction and supervision, weight lifting is safe for youth and adolescents. Previously, growth plate fracture has been an argument against training youngsters but it has been shown that repetitive sports such as gymnastics and baseball are more stressful to the growth plates. These are two very popular youth activities in which parents wouldn’t think twice about enrolling their children.
There are many myths and misconceptions regarding resistance training for youths and adolescents. There is a low risk of growth plate fracture and injury as long as the technique is correct and lifts are supervised. Youth athletes will be stronger, faster and more resilient than their peers who do not lift weights. Combining resistance training (Oly lifting, powerlifting, weight lifting) with plyometrics and conditioning will help your child reach their potential and engrain fundamental movement patterns early. Not only will their confidence be boosted but their bone density and cardiovascular system will benefit.
When searching for a coach/trainer for your child, be sure that they have experience working with youngsters and focus on technique first and foremost.
Thanks for reading,
Shoulders can be particularly tricky for the athletic population. A history of overhead sports and hand dominance can set us up for difficulty later down the line, especially if we choose to move to a mode of exercise that is very symmetrical (rowing, barbell movements). Also, repetitive overhead movements with poor form or overuse during overhead sports can lead us to shoulder pain.
The shoulders hold a particularly difficult role because they have a demand for stability and mobility at the same time. This is a fine balance that can result in pain and dysfunction, if not optimal. Fun fact: the shoulder complex, or the shoulder blade and arm, connect to the body only by attachment of muscles. It is unlike the hip or knee joint that articulates bone to bone with some cartilage in between. So the muscles need extra attention!
To work on both stability and mobility, a few items need to be checked off before we go snatching a weighted barbell over our heads or swinging away at a tennis ball. We must make sure the tissues are warm and the neurological system is primed for overhead movements. Pain in this area may be caused by muscular tension, shoving the shoulder into poor positions due to lack of mobility and/or lack of control of the shoulder. The best way to attack this area is a proper warm-up, mobility or soft tissue work and movement preparation. Of course, all of this is worthless without making sure that you are moving properly.
#1 Inch Worm- this exercise prepares the shoulder complex by adding a weight bearing component. With the push up, the scapular and pec muscles will be prepped for the following mobility drills. 10 repetitions would be a good place to start.
#2 Banded wall slides- these closely resemble an overhead squat or overhead sports movement (but both sides involved!) The band provides constant tension to engage the scapular muscles and the movement overhead allows them to work to stabilize the joint. At the top, the pulling away from the wall engages the lower trap and mimics the position of the barbell in an overhead lift. Try 10 slow slides then 5 lift-offs per arm, keeping tension the entire time.
If you need mobility work, the green band at the gym is a great place to start. If you tend to be more mobile but still have some tissue tension, the lacrosse ball should be your buddy.
#3 Overhead shoulder distraction- using the green band for this mobility exercise allows distraction at the shoulder joint as well as a stretch to the lats and pecs, depending on angle of pull. Two minutes minimum each side!
#4 Subscap smash- The subscapularis muscle can limit external rotation if tight and this can impact overhead lifts, front racks or the throwing/hitting motion. Whether flexible or not, the subscap generally has a good but of tension in weightlifters and overhead athletes. Pressure based techniques are best done for about 2 minutes each side.
A specific shoulder warm-up is important depending on the task for the day. Say the workout is snatches or overhead squats—behind the neck presses and snatch balance will be ideal for adding speed and change of direction. If you are warming up for an overhead sport, start slow and short with the movements the slowly add speed and distance.
#5 Snatch Balance- weightlifters/CrossFitters: this can be a difficult warmup for many, as it can expose your deepest, darkest mobility secrets! The idea is to quickly push your body under the barbell without allowing it to raise at all. If you have never done this, try it with a PVC pipe and a coach nearby. Athletes: choose a task specific warm up or drill and begin to add the speed.
#6 Change how you move- as always, appropriate biomechanics can “cure” many athletes’ pains. Video yourself during a movement that is painful for your shoulder and then watch it in slow motion. You may be surprised! Ask a coach or experienced athlete to give you a few pointers. There are ways to smash with lacrosse balls for a temporary fix, but to make a lasting change and prevent the reoccurrence--move better. If you don’t have the ideal positions yet, then chip away with mobility.
We always encourage self-maintenance for athletes but if you find yourself stuck or with a nagging pain, contact us. We would gladly speak with you about your training and dysfunction/pain. At Athletes’ Potential, we specialize in keeping athletes of all levels functioning and pain free in their active lifestyles. What better way to start the New Year than pain free?
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Danny and Dr. Jackie's views on performance improvement, injury prevention and sometimes other random thoughts.