Strength training for kids?

November 13, 2013 

What seems to be a consistently hot topic is whether or not kids should be lifting weights or involved in strength-training programs. I grew up hearing stories made popular by news media of young kids being pushed by a parent to engage in lifting weights to try and get a competitive edge in sports.

Strength training is a major aspect of sport participation, but is it safe and productive for everyone? Should young kids be engaging in weight-lifting programs?

The primary objective of strength training programs for athletes of all ages is injury-prevention; if athletes can’t withstand the rigors of their sports, they won’t be able to play a full season or to their full potential. A professional athlete should not engage in training that would directly or indirectly promote injury, and kids are no different.

Strength training can be very beneficial for kids of all ages, but we need to look beyond bars, weights, dumbbells and machines. Effective programs can be created utilizing the kid’s bodyweight to introduce and develop basic, essential movements that can give them a head-start toward future training, as well as prepare the body to withstand the rigors of sport to decrease the likelihood of injury.

To get another opinion on this topic, I interviewed a physical therapist to get more insight on injuries in youth athletes and the growth/injury concerns specifically with strength training. The therapist agreed that strength programs can be beneficial and not harmful for kids to participate in, so long as they are done properly by a good coach. He continued by discussing the force placed on the athlete’s body during sport-competition, and the research shows forces of 4-6 times bodyweight during sprinting actions, which occur in nearly every team sport. Furthermore, injuries are far more prevalent and likely during sport activities such as throwing, falling, and getting tackled than weight training.

A common point of concern among parents is for the growth-plates of young kids’ bones. The research shows that growth plates at the collarbone and shoulder-blade, in particular, fully close in the early to mid-20s. Other bones grow and close at different rates; there isn’t a set age for fully-developed bone growth. For this reason, the decision to keep kids out of weight training programs to prevent stunting growth and prematurely closing growth plates isn’t backed up by the medical research.

Keeping kids out of harms-way concerning growing bones would mean preventing them to participate in sports or strength training until they are in the mid-twenties.

Strength-training for athletes is beneficial for all ages to decrease injury risk, improve balance and coordination, and prepare the body for competition in sport. It can give young kids a head-start on future training at the high school and college level, if a qualified, knowledgeable coach is used for this instruction. Getting kids involved in strength programs can accompany sport competition and develop well-rounded, well-prepared athletes.

Bryan Marlborough received his Strength & Conditioning Specialist certification in 2008 and founded Complete Strength Development, a private training facility in Lee’s Summit, where he is the Director of Sport Performance. He has 15 years experience playing, coaching and training quarterbacks in football and has worked with over 100 different athletes. He also serves as the Strength & Conditioning coach for the Kansas City Shock women’s soccer team. bryan@livestrength.com 816-591-8853.

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