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,
Dr. Danny and Dr. Jackie's views on performance improvement, injury prevention and sometimes other random thoughts.