How early is too early to start training? The earlier the better! Too often we hear statements like ‘lifting weights will stunt your growth’ or we see coaches running junior athletes into the ground. This myth has been busted by research in recent times while going for another run is the last thing kids need after training and playing games 3-5 times a week. While there are plenty of opinions on the best time to start incorporating strength training into a child’s fitness or sport regime, we believe the earlier you start the better. At our gym, we start with the basics of human movement. We teach our younger athletes to squat, hinge, push, pull and carry just like we would with a well-trained 24 year old athlete. Basic human movement doesn’t change but how often are kids taught how to move? If you’re signing your child up for little athletics, you bet the coach is going to teach this kid how to run with proper form. If you sign a child up for swim lessons, majority of the class is technique work before they start focusing on getting faster. Put the same kid onto a footy field or a basketball court and they’re expected to know how to run, jump, land and change direction all with proper form when they’ve never been taught. Metaphorically speaking, a youth athlete has a nervous system that’s basically made up of putty. This putty can be moulded and shaped more efficiently at a younger age then it can be later in life. There is a very real window of adaptation during a persons adolescent years where they can make huge improvements in movement efficiency and motor control which transfers greatly to athletic performance. On top of this improved motor control and coordination they can become faster, stronger, more agile, more resilient to injury and enhance their running economy (same output, less effort).
As part of a long-term athletic development plan, strength training should be incorporated as Mario Chavez points out in an article for Science for Sport - “Stronger young athletes will be better prepared to learn complex movements, master sport tactics, and sustain the demands of training and competition” (article listed below). A sample strength program for a youth athlete training twice a week could look like this... Day 1 - UB Push - LB Knee - Core - UB Pull - LB Hip
Day 2 - UB PUSH - LB Single Leg Knee - Core - UB Pull - LB Single Leg Hip *Note: this program would also focus on movement mechanics - jumping, landing change of direction etc. But for simplicity sake this is the outline of the strength work. Moral of the story It’s never too early to start teaching our youth to move properly. Focus on movement proficiency before adding load but don’t be scared to add some weights once these kids can move effectively. Don’t fall into the trap of convincing younger athletes to go for long distance road runs. While running will improve your aerobic fitness it has minimal transfer into strength or athletic development. Strength training carries over into all other athletic qualities. *Video: 12 year old Toby completing 3 rounds of eccentric chin ups, push ups, glute bridges, goblet squats and a plank as part of his strength program. For a more in-depth look into Youth Athlete Training head to https://www.scienceforsport.com/youth-strength-training/