Youth Strength Training

Written by: Elsie Ross CPT at Prescription Fitness (CLE, Ohio)

If you are the parent of a young athlete and you are wondering if strength training is safe, the answer is yes.  If you are wondering if strength training will benefit your young athlete, the answer is yes.   Youth strength training can start as young as 8, but most start around age 10. As long as the young athlete has body awareness and can follow directions well, it is not too early to start.  It is best to hire a certified trainer/sports performance coach.

Youth strength training does not mean lifting heavy weights. Actually, it should include bodyweight exercises, resistance bands, medicine balls, and light dumbbells. When strength training is supervised by a trainer/coach, it can be very beneficial.  Despite parental concerns, youth strength training has proven to bring many benefits to the development of young athletes. In fact, creating a solid strength training program will help young athletes become more resilient to injuries and will also help build the foundation for improved athletic performance later.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are the parent of a young athlete:

Teach Weight Room Safety

This may seem obvious, but teaching weight room safety to young athletes is not always put as a priority. For a trainer/coach, it is better and safer to assume that the athlete has never set foot in a weight room than to assume they already know what it means to maintain a safe training environment. Young athletes should be made aware of how to properly spot and safe body mechanics.

Prioritizing Proper Form

Young athletes should be educated on training with proper form.  This is not only for their safety and for preventing injuries, but also for maximum muscle recruitment and strength gains.  If they are putting in the work, practicing good form will allow them to reap the benefits and accomplish their goals quicker.  It’s best to start with bodyweight exercises, then add resistance as the athlete gets stronger and improves his or her technique.

It is important to focus on technical performance rather than the amount of weight being used. As young athletes become teens, they can place more emphasis on adding weight to develop muscular strength. However, always be sure that the weight is controlled throughout the entire lift.

Creating a Program

Keeping it simple is extremely important when it comes to creating a strength training program for a young athlete. This is not the time to be experimenting with complex variations of a basic lift.

A good program for a young athlete should focus on three areas:  joint flexibility, tendon strength and core strength.  An athlete who is strength training for the first time should focus more on single joint exercises with their body weight or resistance bands – slowly progress from there.

After a young athlete has learned about muscle mechanics and has created a foundation of strength, it is my opinion that some of the most important exercises a young athlete should be taught proper form on are:  squats, deadlifts, and bench press.

Some of the benefits you will see if you hire a certified trainer/sports performance coach to develop a strength training program for your young athlete are:

  • Increase in muscle strength and endurance
  • Protection to muscles and joints from injuries
  • Improved performance in any sport
  • Strengthened bones
  • Maintenance of a healthy weight
  • Improved confidence and self-esteem

Below are a few tips to follow to ensure your young athlete is safe and happy:

  • Warm up and cool down
  • Keep it light
  • Supervise
  • Rest between workouts
  • Keep it fun