As parents in an active community, you might hear that strength training is not recommended for pre-adolescents due to concerns of injury and the belief that children are incapable of increasing strength through resistance training. Let’s look a bit deeper at the facts and put an end to this myth!
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), a properly designed strength training program can increase a child’s strength, improve motor skills and sports performance, as well as prevent injuries in youth sports and recreational activities.
You may be wondering, “What age is ok for my young athlete to begin strength training?”
The best age group to begin resistance training with is the pre-adolescent age group (9-14 years). In the pre-adolescent age group, improvements in strength training come from neuromuscular development, which is the honing of fine motor skills. Therefore, this age group is ideal to teach coordination and stability to. Additionally, it is beneficial for these developing children to work on exercise technique and proper movement patterns. Many people believe that using strength training machines is the best option for young athletes because they won’t break form, but this is NOT the case! Most strength training machines are designed for adults, which means the machine might not be set up correctly and may cause injury. The best way to improve strength and neuromuscular development is by using free weights and body weight exercises to strengthen the large muscle groups.
Keep in mind that injury can still occur with body weight and free weight exercises if the young athlete is not performing the exercise correctly. This is why it is important for the pre-adolescents to exercise under the supervision of a certified professional. Most injuries in the pre-adolescent age group happen as sport participation becomes more intense. Coaches and parents have begun to realize that these injuries are occurring in young athletes mainly because their bodies can’t meet the physical demands of the sport. Many athletes try to “play themselves into shape,” and this is very dangerous because the young athletes’ muscles are not physically prepared to compete in sports.
So how do we design a program for young athletes that allow them to improve strength while decreasing the risk of Injury?
Start by refining fine motor skills in sports. Make the program fun so the young athlete will want to strength train during the same time frame that they are competing in their sport. Supervise the program and keep the resistance at a safe level. Individualize each program as much as possible since each athlete has different physical, psychological, and emotional maturity, as well as different demands of his or her sport. The sooner an athlete can begin resistance training the sooner the athlete will see improvement of athletic performance, meet the demands of the sport as the level of competition increases, and decrease the risk of injury along the way!
If you are looking for a safe controlled environment for training a young athlete or if you have questions about this article, please don’t hesitate to contact Bryan Maroney at Bryan@dogmaathletica.com.