This morning I was questioned by someone outside of them gym on the merits of training pre-adolescent and adolescent athletes and how it could affect their development, particular would it stunt their growth. The reality is that this is not a one off conversation for me as a strength coach but rather a common misconception and myth that has been perpetuated within the youth sports community.
One quick look through the academic literature and we can dispel any concerns on growth plate injury with proper structured strength training. The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics in a review titled “Strength Training by Children and Adolescents” (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/121/4/835 ) states that “appropriate strength-training programs have no apparent adverse effect on linear growth, growth plates, or the cardiovascular system”.
The review goes on to say that:
“Multiple studies have shown that strength training, with proper technique and strict supervision, can increase strength in preadolescents and adolescents. Frequency, mode (type of resistance), intensity, and duration all contribute to a properly structured program. Increases in strength occur with virtually all modes of strength training of at least 8 weeks’ duration and can occur with training as little as once a week, although training twice a week may be more beneficial. Appropriately supervised programs emphasizing strengthening of the core (focusing on the trunk muscles, eg, the abdominal, low back, and gluteal muscles) are also appropriate for children and theoretically benefit sports-specific skill acquisition and postural control.”
The key theme throughout the review is that PROPERLY structured strength training is what the young athlete must have access to. The authors mention that “most injuries occur on home equipment with unsafe behavior and unsupervised settings.” Finding a coach that understand the difference in a child’s development level is what will ensure your young athlete not only stays injury free but also increases their overall sports performance.
Once you dig through the research it becomes very clear that we should be advocating and encouraging young athletes to strength train rather than holding them back.
Here are 5 reasons why it is imperative your young athlete begins strength training:
It physically prepares them for sports training:
Young athletes are not the same as adults or masters athletes, they are still growing into their bodies and often lack coordination at certain ages. When you couple this with the fact they sit most of the day, which has now been shown to create muscular imbalances in the hip, shoulders and thoracic spine, you get a recipe for potential injury and pain down the road. What was once a normal movement for our grand-parents (ex. bodyweight squat) in many cases now needs to be taught to our young people due to our chair based culture.
Young athletes often lack the necessary strength, endurance and stability to learn proper on field, ice or court movements without injury. When you combine this with high expectations from both coaches and parents you may get an athlete who is afraid of speaking about the pain they may have. Getting these athletes involved in a strength program will not only teach them how to move well but it will also give them the awareness to know when they have pushed too far.
It prevents over-use injuries:
Our bodies are amazing at finding ways to accomplish a task even if we are not physically prepared for it. If one muscle in our body is weak another one will take over. If one joint is stiff and lacks mobility, another one further up the chain will take on an increased range. While this may sound like a great adaptation it’s actually the largest injury predictor in athletes.
As these compensations become the norm our bodies move further away from proper movement which will eventually lead to both dysfunction and pain. If left unchecked this will halt your young athlete’s progress. With more and more young athletes specializing very early it is important to have a strength program that balances out the movements that tend to be overused in their sport. At Stone City Strength & Wellness we put all of our young athletes through the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) in order to identify any imbalances before starting a dedicated strength program. With proper screening and coaching we can all but eliminate overuse injuries in youth sports.
It decreases chance of traumatic injuries:
Traumatic injuries are ones that happen in mere seconds, think ACL tear, fractured ankle or torn labrum. These types of injuries cannot always be predicted but that does not mean we can’t prevent them. Ensuring athletes have the right balance of strength, mobility and stability will decrease the likelihood of these injuries occurring. With a proper movement program we can ensure all stabilizing muscles are firing and the body is capable of reaching the end ranges of motion without compensation. This will go a long way in keeping your youngster on the field of play injury free.
Improves Athletic Performance:
Beyond basic strength and mobility gains, one of the largest benefits of proper movement programming in the young athlete is an increased neural efficiency. What this means is that even without a large increase in muscle size the young athlete will increase their strength via a more efficient signalling in the central nervous system (increase in coordination). Not only will the young athlete’s gym performance improve but with an increased neural efficiency they will become faster learners in their sport.
Improves Self Confidence and Self Esteem:
On top of performance and injury prevention a properly implemented strength program will give young athletes an opportunity to succeed on a daily basis. Seeing what their bodies can do and the reciprocal relationship between the work they put in and the success they experience will give them a huge confidence boost while teaching them the value of hard work. In a society that often shuns success, the gym is an amazing environment for personal discovery and a breeding ground for goal setting and personal growth.
As you can see, while young people who want to improve their sports performance should certainly spend the majority of their time perfecting their sport specific skills, strength training should 100% be a part of their multifaceted approach to athletic development. At Stone City Strength & Wellness we take great pride in helping many young athletes begin their journey into the gym in the safest and most rewarding way possible.