Strength Training and the Young Athlete
Brian J Grasso provides some final thoughts on the debate on strength training for young athletes.
Should pre-adolescent kids lift weights or should they not? Will it stunt their growth or increase their likelihood of future sporting success? Is growth plate damage a real concern or merely an exaggerated issue? This debate has raged on for years. Hopefully, this article will help clear up some of the concerns.
Where do we start?
There are definitive differences between adolescent boys and adolescent girls concerning strength and strength production. In boys, absolute muscular strength (the greatest amount of force an individual can produce) grows consistently between the ages of 7 to 19. In girls, strength gains are incurred on a consistent level until about the age of 15, when a period of stagnation occurs and a strength gain plateau. By the end of the pubescent ages, boys are roughly 50% stronger than girls.
Factors to consider
There are several factors to consider when programming strength training for young athletes:
The arguments for and against
On the argument of effectiveness, adequately programmed strength training has shown considerable positive effects for pre-adolescents. A study quoted by Dr Drabik in his book, "Children & Sports Training", showed a 40% increase in strength for boys and girls (aged 10 to 11) following a nine-week strength-training program. In terms of danger or contraindication, the greatest concern lies in ligament or bone damage. Elastic, young skeletons and connective tissue can be injured if loads are excessive. This is why loads must be kept low and proper form strictly followed. Of interesting note is the argument regarding strength training and stunted growth. In the event of bone or growth plate damage, change can be stunted. But, if proper strength training parameters are prescribed, then the opposite is true. Muscle pull (which refers to the tension or 'tugging' where the muscle attaches to the bone during muscle contraction), is a significant factor that stimulates bone thickness. Moreover, 'intermittent use of submaximal resistance stimulates height growth'.
Assessment is essential
One keynote point that I have preached endlessly is the fact that an orthopaedic assessment MUST precede any strength training prescription. Postural defects can be made worse by incorrect application of strength training, and conversely improved by a correct application. An assessment is a mandatory precursor to any child-based strength-training program.
Exercises for young athletes
Here is a list of exercises, adopted from Darbik (1996), to use with young athletes. The exercises in this list get progressively more difficult. Start younger athletes on the earlier exercises and progress them systematically over the years.
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About the Author
Brian Grasso is the President of Developing Athletics, which is a company dedicated to educating coaches, parents and youth sporting officials throughout the world on the concepts of athletic development. Brian can be contacted through his website at www.DevelopingAthletics.com
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: