I cannot stress the importance of strength training for the youth athlete enough. People have been misinformed in the past when it comes to exposing their kids to a strength training program. There is a fear of “stunting” their kids growth, or fatiguing the child to a point where their school work or sport performance decline. The truth is a properly executed strength program will not have any effect on the height of a child, and not only will strength training aid in improved education and athletic performance; it will also create positive lifestyle habits that they can take with them once their athletic career is over.
What baffles the strength coach community is the willingness to let kids play sports year round’ (which is great, don’t get me wrong) but they do not feel the need to prepare the athlete for that type of competition load. Too often I have seen burnt out youth athletes due to throwing a baseball 365 days a year, and NO time dedicated to recovery or preparation. “Children cannot ‘play’ themselves into shape, the loads and demands of the sport activity do not stimulate improved muscle and connective tissue growth and strength.” - (Zatsiorsky, 2006) Just like any athlete, at any level, the athlete must be physically prepared for the demands of the season. Just because the athlete is young, it does not mean that their body can handle the demands of long term competition. One of the greatest benefits of organized strength training is its ability to better prepare the youth athlete for sport and reduce injury; which subsequently allows for the athlete to spend more time playing their sport! Funny how that works out.
Now, training youth athletes isn’t as easy as it seems. Extreme caution must be taken when considering the variables for a youth program. The prepubescent stage of an athlete’s life is crucial for laying an athletic foundation for the future. At this point, any improvement in performance is predominantly neurological; meaning the kid isn’t getting bigger, rather they are improving their efficiency of completing the movement. Variables such as load, volume, duration of the session, type of exercise, and frequency of training all must carefully thought out to prevent overtraining and fatigue. Typically the movement is completed with body weight resistance, but as the athlete progresses the load will be adjusted accordingly. Volume parameters of 1-3 sets x 6-20 repetitions with 8-10 exercise variations will stimulate positive adaptations. The duration of the session should not exceed an hour, and a frequency of 2-3 non consecutive sessions per week will allow proper recovery from the sessions. As the athlete progresses, these variables will be increasingly similar to an adult program, but this is after puberty has taken place. The biggest variable is consistency! Children have no training age, this means whatever they gain from training can quickly disappear with a cessation in training. I would much rather see a kid once a week for a year, more than 3 times per week for 3 months.
On paper it may seem like youth training requires a ton of structure. But, in reality it is about the child figuring things out on their own in a supervised environment. The younger the athlete, the less structure and coaching there is to the session. Prescribing games that incentivise total body movements and activity thinking works wonders for athletic development. The end goal of any youth training program should be long term athletic development, they do not need to peak in grade school! The last thing we want the kids to think of training is another chore they must complete. Training should be challenging and fun, the weight room can teach a lot of life lessons. Finally, it is not all about sport performance, training is meant to build a foundation for a healthy lifestyle as well. The sooner we can instill positive habits into children, the better the chance they have to sustain those habits throughout life.
-Thank you for your time! If you have any questions please let us know!
Coach Nate Garcia
Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, ILL.: Human Kinetics.