“Doesn’t strength training stunt kids’ growth?”
This old adage is still widely perpetuated and believed. Almost weekly, people ask if this is true. However, this belief is outdated and does not hold up at all when we take a closer look.
The concern around kids’ strength training is that lifting weights will put enough force on bones that will damage growth plates and cause them to stop growing. Research does not support this at all. Forces on bones will not cause them to stop growing and is actually healthy for bone remodelling.
The load or force placed on children’s muscles, bones and tendons when running and jumping are significantly higher than what they will be exposed to while lifting under controlled speeds and conditions. It is not uncommon for the body to deal with more than three times their body weight while landing from a max jump or while sprinting at full speed. So, by that logic, playing a sport should be avoided at all costs, because it is even more damaging to the adolescent body. In reality, supervised and individualized strength and conditioning programs are very healthy for the young athlete, making them more capable of handling the loads needed to succeed in their sports.
“They are busy, they already play a lot, and more sport specific training is more important right?”
Professionals agree that early specialization (playing one sport year-round) can be very damaging to the young body. Imagine going into the gym and only doing bicep curls with your right arm every day. This would lead to some significant imbalances in strength and function of the body, which would have implications to your ability to produce force and stay healthy.
This may seem like an extreme example, but that is the exact effect that sport has on the body (look at Rafael Nadal’s arm sizes for proof). In a sporting climate where early specialization is the norm, we need to find ways to address the development of imbalances.
Fortunately, a smart strength and conditioning program is the perfect solution. We can figure out what limitations in strength, coordination, or balance the athlete has and design a program to correct those specifically.
-Increases bone mineral density
-Improves coordination and motor performance
-Enhances strength and muscular endurance
-Enhances the ability to produce force (eg. move fast and jump high)
All of this enhances sport performance and leads to a more resilient athlete
While there is no set age to begin training, research has been done with children as young as 8 years old. Most professionals agree that it is safe as long as we start with bodyweight drills and progress to loads that are light enough to be lifted with proper technique. The purpose of the initial training should be to introduce the body to training stresses while ingraining proper movement patterns.
There are certain movements that are fundamental to all sport and activity, like squatting and lunging. While there is some debate as to how many fundamental movement patterns there are, professionals agree that movement competency is extremely important for the young athlete, and should be the foundation of their strength training regime.
A body that moves better is generally faster, stronger, more coordinated and less prone to injury. A trained professional knows how to cue and observe the critical features like the position of the knees during practice to ensure an athlete gets the most out of training exposures.
If your child is looking to thrive in sport and play long term, then a smart strength and conditioning program that focuses on the basics of proper movement technique is critical.
Learning the fundamentals of squatting, lunging, hinging, pushing and pulling while being exposed to lots of variability in a fun and safe environment will help make sure your athlete is ready for the demands of their sport.