Thursday, January 25, 2018

Strength Training for Kids

One of the strength and conditioning experts I try to keep up with is Richard Blagrove, a highly respected UK strength and conditioning coach and author who works with endurance runners. His Nov 23, 2017 piece published in the UK magazine Athletics Weekly entitled Why 12-Year Olds Should Lift Weights is the inspiration for this post.

Two things that American sports coaches and parents are guilty of are:
1) too early sports specialization
2) superstitious fear of strength training for kids

I have very well meaning parents, some of whom are in medical fields, who express deep concerns over their adolescent athletes strength training. This despite the fact that every sport that kids participate in has inherent risks and all of them (think soccer or track is safe? why?) are orders of magnitude more likely to injure their child than strength training. Hamill et al Study.

The hazards of specializing too soon are addressed in the must read book, Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them for Athletes, Parents, and Coaches - Based on My Life in Sports Medicine, by James Andrews and the benefits of multisport athletic participation are spelled out in Istvan Balyi's book, Long Term Athlete Development.

Blagrove asserts that starting a kid on a strength training program at 16 is about 10 years too late, and I agree. Strength training for children is skill based (not resistance based) and begins with learning fundamental movement patterns intermixed with games and play. As the child matures emotionally and physically more complexity, structure and challenging exercises are introduced. By the time the child hits puberty, they have a movement vocabulary appropriate to more sophisticated sports performance oriented resistance training.

Here is a chart from the article summarizing key recommendations for kids participating in strength training programs.

Finally, if you have a kid in high school and there is good chance he or she is going to want to play their sport at the collegiate level, they will be at an extreme disadvantage if they don't know their way around a weight room. On the other hand, they will be instant leaders on the the team if they do know what they are doing. I get feedback all the time from kids who have gone on to college programs whose strength coaches are ecstatic (as much as strength coach allows him or herself to BE ecstatic) that an incoming freshman knows how to squat, power clean and deadlift properly. One of my former female athletes now in a Div I program is routinely called on to demonstrate proper barbell technique for the boys on her team. It's this kind of feedback that keeps me doing what I do!