5 Myths About Training Youth Athlete

This article will discuss the five myths associated with youth strength training. It will discuss objective data based information relating to strength training being safe for kids and adolescents. Information on strength not stunting the growth of kids will be presented. The article will indicate that is no evidence to suggest that strength training has a high risk of injury to growth plates. An argument will be made that participating in sports has high compressive loads on the bones and joints than strength training. And finally, the article will discuss that even very young athletes can safely perform strength training.

As a strength and conditioning and wrestling coach , a lot of parents ask me about  training for their son’s and daughter’s. The majority of parents either believe that kids should not strength train or they have been told that strength training for kids is inappropriate, contraindicated, or dangerous. As such, we still have misconceptions about the facts on strength training for youth athletes, not only by parents, but trainers as well. 


Strength Training Will Not Make You Shorter

It’s very clear that strength training and/or competition in sports of any kind do not accelerate or decelerate growth and maturity with reference to height, body proportions, or sexual maturation. There is no evidence to indicate a decrease in stature in children who regularly strength train in a supervised environment with qualified instruction. In all likelihood, participation in weight-bearing physical activities (including strength training) will have a favorable influence on growth at any stage of development but will not affect a child’s genetic height potential. In fact, childhood and adolescence may be an opportune time for bone modeling and remodeling in response to the compressive forces of strength training.


One of the most often asked questions by parents of youth athletes is the effect of strength training on growth plate fractures. A common misconception about strength training for kids and adolescents is that there is a high risk of injury to the growth plates. The fact of the matter is that a growth plate fracture due to strength training has not been reported in any research study when there has been proper supervision, appropriately designed exercises, and the athletes were using proper lifting technique. The forces on the growth plates of youth athletes are most likely greater when they are playing their sport than they are when strength training. Even when kids play, there are high forces on the growth plates when they run, jump, land, fall, roll, pull, catch, and throw. Therefore, it comes back to the trainer who must give proper instruction and feedback and never allow young athletes to play around with weights or attempt to do maximum lifts

No More Injury Risk than Other Sports

The forces on bones, joints, tendons, and muscles that kids are exposed to in sports and recreational activities can actually be greater in magnitude and exposure time than strength training. This is put into perspective when realizing the force on a young athletes bones, joints, and muscles when he or she sprints to get a pass in lacrosse or field hockey, kicks a soccer ball, lands a jump in snowboarding, makes a sharp turn in ice hockey, pedals hard in BMX biking, carves a turn in surfing, or decelerates in football.


The key to injury prevention in strength training for kids and adolescents is to make sure they have qualified supervision. Trainers, and strength and conditioning coaches, for youth athletes must have the proper education in kinesiology or exercise science and probably should have a specific certification in youth training. In order to be successful and prevent injury, trainers need to understand the psychosocial uniqueness of kids’, correct exercise methodology, exercise mechanics, how to detect errors and give appropriate feedback, and how to make training fun.


Several case studies and questionnaires about strength training, and the competitive sports of weightlifting and powerlifting, showed that injuries do occur in young lifters, although most are accidents. Lack of qualified instruction that can cause poor exercise technique and inappropriate resistance could explain some of the injuries. The athlete must have age-specific instruction as well as exercises based on the amount of training experience he or she has.


Very young athletes must start with resistance such as medicine balls to learn and develop the proper motor programs for correct exercise technique. Before many young athletes start resistance training, it is important they develop basic movement skills and proper static and dynamic postural mechanics. These are important proprioceptor developmental movements and postures which can build the foundation for future training. For instance, young and very young athletes need to learn, and feel, the proper technique for “foundation” exercises such as squats, push-ups, and planks.


No Testosterone – No Problem

Some people believe that young athletes cannot make strength and power gains because they have not started to secret a lot of testosterone. The fact is that testosterone is not essential for improving strength. It is for this reason why women and the elderly can increase strength even though they have little testosterone. When compared on a relative or percent basis, training-induced strength gains in children are comparable to those in adolescents and adults. in There is a compelling body of evidence that kids and adolescents can increase their strength, above and beyond growth and maturation, if the program has sufficient intensity, volume, and duration. In addition, there are neural adaptations that can increase strength within two to three weeks by inhibiting the Golgi tendon organ response to a strength stimulus allowing an athlete to lift more weight or perform more body weight repetitions.


Strength Training at Any Age

Boys and girls of all ages can benefit from strength training. Children as young as 5 and 6 years have benefited from regular participation in a strength training program Kids who weight train increase strength, decrease risk of injury, and enhance sports performance. Even body weight training (push-ups, squats with no weight, planks, lunges, etc.) can give very young athletes the ability to develop strength and motor programs for proper movement techniques.


Developing basic movement skills and postures is important for young athletes before they start strength training. Important proprioceptor developmental movements and static and dynamic postures can build the foundation for future training. Young and very young athletes need to learn, and feel, the proper technique for “foundation” exercises such as squats, push-ups, and planks. Static stability can be developed with balance positions on one foot and two, with static and dynamic arm movements. Dynamic balance can be developed with combinations of jumping, hopping, bounding, and other locomotor movements. Success in sports is based, in part, on the ability to move in multiple directions with smooth and coordinated movements, therefore it is important for young athletes to feel and learn locomotor movements such as:

  1. Running, Jumping, Hopping, Galloping, Skipping, Side Stepping, Karaoke Run, Leaping
  2. Vertical jumping and landing
  3. Horizontal jumping and landing
  4. 2-foot hopping and 1-foot hopping
  5. Side-to-side hopping
  6. Body rolling
  7. Acceleration/deceleration
  8. Reactivity
  9. Agility
  10. Balance on unstable surfaces.

We indicate that kids this young can make significant increases in muscle strength and power by training in a well-designed strength and conditioning program. We describes a twice-per-week, after-school work-out that lasts 60 minutes and includes:

  1. Functional warm-up with light weight (1 kg) medicine balls.
  2. Jumping and medicine ball throwing drills.
  3. Strength-building exercises using balls, bands, dumbbells and child-size weight machines.
  4. Cool-down games and activities.

Children work in groups of 10 and are supervised by at least two trained fitness leaders. When the children were post tested, after eight weeks of training, they improved upper and lower body muscle strength, long jump, vertical jump, and seated ball throw.

In conclusion, there are many myths about strength training for youth athletes. But the fact is, they are myths and are not substantiated data based research or practical application by experienced trainers and strength and conditioning coaches. Strength training for kids and adolescents has little risk of injury (when properly supervised and give proper instruction) and has tremendous benefit for improved strength, power, and endurance as well as improving sports performance.


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