One of the questions I have commonly received a great deal as an athletic trainer is when is it safe to start strength training with young athletes? A great starting point is to define what strength training actually is, which implies some sort of action by the body’s muscles exerting or resisting some force. Strength training does not necessary mean going to the conventional gym and power lifting with large amounts of weight. Strength training especially for younger athletes can involve pushups, body weight squats, lunges, or sit ups. A safe age to start a strength training program can begin anywhere from age 9 through 12 which is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the focus of strength training at this age should be on body weight exercises, light resistance bands, and very light free weights. The goal at this age should not be seeing large gains in muscle size but more muscular development and coordination. Children ages 13-14 should still focus on body weight exercises, continue staying away from any heavy weights and focus on high repetition low weight exercises. Youth ages 14-15 may begin integrating a more structured strength training regimen with more traditional lifts performed in a weight room such as bench press, military press, and squats.
The first and foremost principle to starting any strength training regimen with your children is supervision and instruction of technique. This is especially important as your children get older and start performing more complex lifts that require proper technique and instruction to help prevent injury. There seems to still be a stigma that strength training can cause injury but if done properly will actually be more of a benefit to helping prevent injury. Injury prevention while strength training can occur due in part to development of fine motor skills and increased muscular development. This philosophy has been supported by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) who state that youth will find strength training both beneficial and safe if a competent coach who is skilled in program design supervises every strength training session and proper technique is taught and applied throughout every session. In addition, previous studies done by the American College of Sports Medicine confirm that strength training may actually help prevent injuries by giving children a basic level of fitness through a wide variety of motions and exercises that will in turn only promote their coordination level and flexibility. Another benefit to strength training for coaches and parents to consider beyond the physical aspect is the psychological and mental well being they will be instilling in their children. While a young athlete participates in a strength training program they are also improving their self confidence and overall image of themselves while promoting an active lifestyle.
I encourage parents and coaches alike if they do not feel competent in instructing their athletes or children through a strength program to seek out a certified Strength Coach to help write out or instruct some of the workouts for coaches to follow. Not every parent has had a background of being in an environment to learn proper training techniques therefore my motto is when in doubt ask for help. It will only help your knowledge as a parent or coach to help your athlete or child progress toward the future of strengthening their bodies safely and overall fitness level.
Designing a strength training program
Start body weight exercises
Pull ups or static holds in a pull up position
Sit ups (crunches, bicycles, ect.)
Body weight lunges
Body weight squats
Benefits of strength training
Promote a healthy lifestyle-physical well being
Self-image and self- confidence
Increase muscle endurance
Increase bone density
Reduce risk for injury
Improved performance in sports