Strength training for youth athletes has become an increasingly debated topic in the sports performance field. Concerns surrounding stunting growth, safety and injury risk, and the value of it for children are valid from an outsider's perspective. Maybe you’re envisioning a coach suggesting your child throw around hundreds of pounds, or get big and jacked like a bodybuilder. For youth athletes, that is far from reality. When looking at evidence-based research surrounding strength training for children, the findings are overwhelmingly positive when conducted safely. Strength training for youth athletes can increase movement competency, general and sport specific strength, confidence, self-efficacy, sport performance as well as increase their likelihood of performing at high levels of sport later on in life.
Myth #1: Strength Training Will Stunt Youth Athlete’s Growth
There is no reliable evidence from research showing that strength training stunt’s children’s growth. Despite the fact that children’s growth plates are developing, strength training has no negative impact on this process. In fact, strength training can actually support healthy bone growth, improve bone density, and limit bone injuries.
Myth #2: Strength Training is too Dangerous for Youth Athletes
When done incorrectly without professional supervision, strength training can be dangerous for children, or anyone for that matter. With youth athletes, it is especially important to focus on proper movement patterns first, then increase load and complexity. Youth athletes should progress slowly. The training focus should be on efficient and healthy movement patterns, fun, and confidence building.
Myth #3: Strength Training Won’t Have Any Impact on Youth Athlete’s Health or Performance
Consistent training can have a huge impact on your child’s health performance, whether they are playing sports or just training to have fun and be healthy. Due to low training experience and continually growing muscles, youth athletes can get strong and healthy quickly with consistent training. As an athlete progresses past basic movement patterns, training can become more sport-specific to aid directly in improving sport performance.
Myth #4: Youth Athletes Should Only do One Type of Strength Training
Starting simple is always key with youth athletes, but after a certain level of training experience, youth athletes can benefit from a variety of different training methods. Circuit training, block training, Olympic lifting, speed training, and injury prevention can all be incorporated into a youth athletes programming at the right time, at the discretion of their coach.
Myth #5: Strength Training for Youth Needs to Be Very Sport Specific
Youth athletes, especially when starting out, will benefit most from simple training that is focused on basic movement patterns and biomechanics. While it may not look exactly like what they are doing at a sports practice, it sets a solid foundation for them to build off while also improving their strength, power, speed and agility. Sport specificity can be increased as an athlete gains more training experience, but even elite level athletes benefit greatly from adding variety into their training. Not every movement has to mimic the movement of a sport in order for there to be large performance results.