Teaching young athletes to lift weight gives them an athletic skill, confidence, improved physical health, and it inspires them to be more active.
However the idea of giving young athletes weights to lift makes people nervous. Parents have some valid questions:
“Is it safe for kids to do weightlifting?”
“What if my kid gets hurt?”
“Is strength really necessary for a kid?”
There are a lot of reasons to get your young athlete into strength training.
Why Young Athletes Can and Should Work on Strength
Most kids are simply not strong enough in this day and age. They are less physically active than ever before. You can see this lack of strength and activity in how kids slouch at their desks or over their mobile devices. Whenever you see poor posture, you are seeing a weak body.
A athlete that cannot support proper posture does not have adequate muscle strength, has poor balance, lacks coordination, and has overall bad muscle endurance.
Now, you may be asking, but can’t my child just get adequate strength from playing outside more?
It’s true that there is no substitute for both the joy and the health benefits of active play, but for some kids, taking the extra step to build strength can make a world of difference. Strength training has tremendous benefits for children, the primary one being to build postural strength as well as trunk and joint stability. In other words, the ability to support the spine and joints under load and through movement. Strength training also improves coordination, helps prevent injuries, and contributes to improvements in power, speed, and endurance.
Strength training can reverse these negative effects and give a child the ability to sit, walk, and engage in all other kinds of movements correctly and in ways that prevent injury, pain, and future health problems.
More importantly than anything else, a youth training program can inspire a child to live an active and healthy lifestyle. This is the primary goal of any type of athletic or training program for kids, including weightlifting and strength training.
Here are just a few of the most important benefits of strength training for kids:
Improve cardiovascular fitness and body composition
Stimulate bone mineralization and improve bone mineral density
Strengthen connective tissue
Improve blood lipid profiles
Improve mental health and self-confidence
Recent studies have shown some benefit to increased strength, overall function, and mental well-being in children with cerebral palsy.
Rehabilitation can help prevent injuries, particularly the shoulders and knees.
Special Rules for Special Clients
Kids are not the same as adults. To teach young athletes lifting, we follow special guidelines. The ultimate priority is to keep them safe while giving them all the benefits of strength training.
Teach good posture first
The most important part of correct, safe lifting is good posture. This is the first skill a child needs to learn. Once they get it, you can put proper posture into the context of a squat, a press, a pull, a pushup, or any other lifting maneuver. Teaching safe form is easier and more effective when exercises are all based on the same model of good posture.
Teach strength as a skill
Strength is a skill.
Teaching lifting and strength training should be approached as a skill that needs to be practiced. Size of weights, number of reps, these are all secondary to good form, a learned skill.
When we teach young athletes, we emphasize the movement, not the number on the weights or the rep list.
Every child is an individual
Individuals have different limb lengths, trunk lengths, and come in different heights and weights. Ideal form for a particular exercise may be completely different for two different individuals.
If an athlete is having a hard time performing an exercise, a stance, posture, or range of motion adjustment may be all that is needed.
Form before Weight
If a child cannot consistently use good form during a set of repetitions, the weight is too much, period. We reduce the weights until form is perfect and only then do we continue.
Perfect the Squat
After posture, a proper squat is the most important skill in lifting. It is a foundational move that builds a strong core and hips. Children know how to squat, but not correctly under load (This is the important part). This needs to be taught early for good form, strength, and safe movements.
Keep it simple. Trying to introduce too many exercises is counterproductive. Younger athletes, in particular, only have so much attention to devote to one activity. A squat, a pushup, and an assisted pullup or row is just enough for one session.
As athletes get older, this doesn’t change much; good quality work on fewer exercises keeps them mentally engaged and focused on good form.
Strength is not enough
As with adults, strength isn’t everything. Children need cardiovascular exercise too. This is where natural play is perfect.
Running around with friends, riding bikes, or just going for a walk as a family, these are the fun, social activities that should accompany any kind of strength training.
Don’t be afraid of strength training and lifting for young athletes. They can do it, and they can have fun and get stronger at the same time.