Is There Too Much RISK For Youth Athletes to Lift Weights?

The answer is 100% NO!

A proper age-appropriate weightlifting program will set the athlete up for success as they develop in age and sport.

This question of ‘when do I start my athlete in strength training’ is one question most coaches hear frequently. I hear parents express their concerns and state all the risks and myths associated with youth strength training.

In this article I will try to offer insight on why it is not only ok to start a weightlifting program young, but why it is crucial to the development of the athlete.

Risks of Youth Weight Training

The risks of weight training a youth athlete are in fact scary when not done properly.

The biggest risk is improper supervision. The lack of supervision with a young athlete can become very detrimental to the success of the athlete’s progress while a properly supervised athlete can set themselves up for tremendous success.

With lack of supervision comes too much weight on the bar. When an athlete tries to lift too much weight with improper technique, they put themselves at risk for injury.

The risk of improper technique with a young athlete can cause injury which will keep them out of practice and subsequently, games. Improper technique will hamper the development of the youth athlete.

Therefore, a proper plan of attack and proper supervision MUST be part of the young athlete’s program to ensure the safety of the athlete and so they can develop properly.

Creating an Age-Specific Program

The plan of attack is one that must be set out for the young athlete. Too many times the parent will be sold on a sports specific plan at a young age.

The program must be AGE SPECIFIC! An age specific program will specifically help the young athlete in their chosen sport.

Age Specific, will include light weights, higher repetitions with general strength exercises.

All of us have heard the term, “too much too soon” in our lives. This is one time we do not want to do too much too soon. The athlete must lay down the proper foundation that will set them up for success later.

Sample Youth Strength Training Program

First and foremost, the athlete should have a trained coach supervising the athlete and track their progress throughout the plan that has been laid out.

The program should consist of a base weight training plan that incorporates main strength training patterns.

The exercises prescribed should be full body, multi joint exercises that allow the athlete to develop motor coordination as they progress.

If the athlete can lay the proper groundwork at an early age, they will see greater results as they get older.

Every day we see young athletes on the playground running, jumping, squatting to pick up rocks etc. There is very little difference in weight training.

The program is just the blueprint for the athlete to follow along with to maximize their growth and development.

An example of a base program is as follows:

  • Body Weight Squats 2 sets of 12
  • Step Ups onto a box 2 sets of 8 each leg
  • Push Ups 2 sets of 10
  • 1 Arm Dumbbell Row 2 sets of 10 each arm
  • Body Pulls 2 sets of 8
  • DB Shoulder Press 2 sets of 10

The goal of training the youth athlete is for the technique to be perfect, the focus should NOT be on the amount of weight but the technique.

It is fine for the athlete to repeat the base movement patterns until they are solid.

The quote that we love to use is, “Do not sacrifice technique for weight.”

Many young athletes will try to utilize a weight that is too much for them when not properly supervised.

How Old Do Athletes Need to Be to Start Strength Training?

Youth Athletes Doing Pushups

An athlete can start “strength training” as early as 5-7 years old. When we say strength training this can consist of body weight squats, walking with a light medicine ball, 3-pound dumbbells for bench press and even plank holds.

If the weights are submaximal and the technique is sound, the sooner the athlete gets used to the exercise, the better development they will have.

Strength Training NOT Maximal Weights

The goal of training the youth athlete to minimize risk is to prescribe the exercises that will assist in the development of the young athlete not put them in harm’s way.

This goal can be obtained by consistently focusing on the quality of the technique of the exercise rather than the amount of weight being lifted.

Having the young athlete perform exercises such as a heavy deadlift without laying down a proper foundation and maintaining correct technique because the weight is too heavy can lead to injury thus causing the athlete to miss time on the practice field which will lead to missed competition time when it counts.

Strength Training Promotes Injury Prevention

When a young athlete participates in a solid strength and conditioning program this will not only allow the body to get strong but will assist in the prevention of injury.

When strength training is performed properly at a young age, strength training can help bones, ligaments, tendons and develop muscle strength and toughness.

Strength training will also help improve joint function and reduce the potential for injury.

Strength Gains and Speed Development

One of the best parts of a young athlete developing strength is that they get faster!

As the athlete gets stronger, they are able to apply more force into the ground when running, jumping and cutting.

When the athlete can apply more force into the ground the ground, this will allow the athlete to jump higher and run faster.

In Conclusion

The idea of risk in youth strength training is real. To minimize the risk of injury, the program must be age specific, well planned out and most importantly, supervised properly.

If the above mentioned are done, then the young athlete will have a chance to make gains in the weight room that will allow for the athlete to run faster, jump higher, be more explosive, have a quicker first step and most importantly, assist in the prevention of injury.

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