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Understanding the Benefits and Concerns of Youth Strength Training Programs

Benefits of Strength Training for Youth
Numerous studies have been published on the benefits of strength training in regards to overall fitness and health markers, muscular strength, injury reduction, sports performance enhancement, and confidence. Scientifically proven adaptations from strength training include increased neural drive, increased synchronization of motor units, and hypertrophy of skeletal muscle. These adaptations not only create a bigger, leaner, and stronger individual, but one who is able to express improved control and execution of complex sport skills while performing them at greater force and velocity outputs. So as a young athlete, if you have a desire to run faster, jump higher, or throw harder, you must first become stronger. Strength is the foundation on which all other physical abilities are built.

Experts also agree that there are many health benefits associated with strength training with research suggesting that strength training in youth can result in increased bone density, healthier body composition, and improved blood lipid profiles. Other benefits from participating in a strength training program also include reduced chance of injury during sport participation and increased self-esteem and confidence.

Now while to what degree strength and improvement in the weight room transfers into an athlete performing better on the field may be left in question, one thing that will always transfer to a competitive environment is confidence. I'm not talking having a massive ego or being cocky. Confident and cocky are completely different. Confidence is extremely important and strength has a unique way of improving confidence in children.

Concerns of Strength Training for Youth
Roundtable discussions including strength coaches, medical professionals, and researchers have focused on questions of concern pertaining to the strength and conditioning programs for young children. These concerns include injury rates, efficacy, and safety.

Among these experts, they have agreed on one common theme:

When a program is well supervised, form and technique are properly instructed, and the program is administered by someone who holds an appropriate certification, there should not be a concern for the child’s safety.

When it comes to weightlifting injuries, a large number of the reported injuries took place in a home gym or involved children who were unsupervised while they were lifting. In regards to minimizing risks in the weight room, many of the experts agreed that there should be an appropriate coach-to-athlete ratio (smaller ratios are ideal), proper education on strength training technique, and proper progressions for their training age.

Appropriate Age to Begin Strength Training
It is generally accepted that there is no specific age at which it is best to start a strength training program. However, it is recommended that children must be mature enough to accept and follow directions while also possessing an understanding of the risks and benefits associated with strength training. It is commonly accepted that if a child is participating in an organized sport, then this is an appropriate time period for them to begin a strength training program. Typically, for the majority of children this would approximately between the ages of 6-8.

Final Words
There are numerous benefits for youth to begin a strength and conditioning program. The program should be led by a qualified strength and conditioning professional and tailored to meet the needs in regards to age appropriate training, gender, and primary sport(s) of participation. Children should be willing and ready to follow instruction to ensure safety, quality training, and to meet their performance goals.

For more information on the topic of youth strength training and athletic development, please click on the links below:

Guidelines for Selecting a Strength Coach or Personal Trainer
Gallagher Performance - Staff Bios
Common Mistakes in Developing Young Athletes 
Success or Failure: What Are You Setting Your Young Athlete Up For?
References
Faigenbaum, A, Kraemer, W, Cameron, J, Blimkie, R, Jeffreys, I, Micheli, L, et al. Youth Resistance Training: Updated Position Statement Paper from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23(suppl 5): S60-S79, 2009.
Haff, G. Roundtable discussion: Youth resistance training. Strength and Conditioning Journal 25(1): 49-64, 2003.
Fascia & Muscular Adhesions: How they relate to pa...
VBlog: Overtraining a Myth?

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