Strength Training and Specialiization in Youth Sports
Written by Justen Hinerman DPT
Strength training for kids? Absolutely! Strength training for our youth has always been and probably will continue to be a hot topic for debate. When done properly, strength training provides many benefits, not only to kids who are training for sports, but also for those who simply want to be healthier. So the question always remains, “What age is it okay for kids to begin strength training.” Keep in mind when I talk about strength training, this is not to be confused with powerlifting and/or body building. These are seperate ideologies, each of which have their own guidelines. When it comes to strength training typically between the ages of 7 and 8 are appropriate times to begin. Generally kids have begun to establish quality motor control, appropriate direction following skills and the ability to recreate movements through practicing proper form and technique. Through strength training – kids will reap the rewards of improved muscle strength and endurance, protection of muscles and joints from potential injuries, help maintain a healthy body composition, and improvement of their self-confidence. The greatest benefit however may simply be creating a positive mindset towards fitness and a pre-disposition for a life time of health and wellness!!
Let’s talk about a few myths that surround the controversy of strength training in youths.
Strength training in children is unsafe:
As we have discussed previously, this is simply not true. In fact, when it comes to injuries associated with particpating in certain activities, strength training ranks at the bottom. Meaning your child has a significantly higher opportunity to become injured by playing their sport then they ever do strength training for it. Proper guidance from qualified individuals is a must!
Strength training leads to a higher risk of injury: A concern I typically encounter is “well little johnny or suzy could hurt themselves” And yes this is abosolutely true. They could hurt themselves. But so can adult johnny or suzy! Again it all goes back to surrounding yourself with qualified individuals who will provide the appropriate learning environment for our youth.
Strength training is only for athletes:
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Strength training will provide benefits for all. There are multiple benefits associated with strength training. Remember.. the equipment used in the gym does not care if you are an athlete!
Now let’s switch gears for just a second and talk about specialization in sport involving our youth. Over the past 30 years or so we have witnessed nearly a 3 fold jump in youth sports particaption, however a signficant decrease in multi-sport athletes. Growing up I can remember playing multiple sports including football, soccer, baseball, wrestling and karate. As I entered high school, I was limited to only playing football and baseball due to season overlap. With the constant demands of optaining a college scholarship and or becoming the next Joe Montana, kids are being asked to pick only one sport early on in their lives. Unfortunately the lack of diversifcation can lead to significant overuse injuries, burnout and underdevelopment of hand-eye coordination, proportional whole body strength, and mental toughness. The numbers speak for themselves, individuals who specialize in a specific sport vs their peers whom do not, have a 50-70% higher risk of injury. In my eyes, typically not a good idea.
We have come a long way in the development in our training regiments. Advancements in equipment, technology, and the overall way we look at training has changed significantly over the years. With that being said, even with all the changes nothing will ever replace the importance of qualified individuals providing the right training enviornment and creating a postive outcome for our youth.