Youth strength and conditioning has the reputation of either being viewed as essential
to development and foundational training or as negative, unnecessary, and at times
harmful. No matter what way you view it, there is no denying the research that has been
done on sports training programs for kids and the positive impact that exercise can have
on the lifestyle of these youth athletes. Without a doubt, we will get into the information on strength and conditioning for the youth athlete, but to best create a well-rounded picture, let’s take a step back and begin looking at this topic from the overall view of health and wellness of the children.
Health Status of Our Youth
Undeniably, chronic diseases, inactivity, and poor lifestyle habits are creeping into the
lives of our younger generation. One-third of the youth population is now considered
overweight with one-fifth of these children being obese. (1)
According to the CDC, between the years of 2002 and 2015, the rate of new cases
of type II diabetes, the type that is related to lifestyle factors and not genetics, increased
4.8% with only a 1.9% increase in Type I diabetes per year.
If these factors are not addressed now, this population runs the risk of worsening
obesity, diabetes, and other chronic lifestyle, metabolic diseases. We need to remodel
our current healthcare practice and the treatment of choice is lifestyle intervention.(2)
Benefits of Strength and Conditioning for the Youth Athlete
Besides overall health and management of lifestyle factors, why else is strength and
condition important for the youth athlete? Most importantly, it sets up a foundation for the younger athlete to build and grow upon. Many kids jump straight into sports once they are at the appropriate age. Through this experience they naturally develop skills and learn the movements associated with their specific sport. However, oftentimes, youth sports teams do not work one on one with a strength and conditioning coach. Therefore, these kids do not ever properly build a foundation of strength, not just strength in their muscles, but also strength of their joints, ligaments, and bones. The strength built from a strength and conditioning program transfers over to many other components of fitness and performance. At the same time, it safeguards kids against injuries. The stronger your child is, the more neuromuscular control they have over their bodies and movement patterns, the more likely they are to move and perform at their optimal level, decreasing their risk of injury.
The overall increase in strength, control of the body, and the decreased risk of injury, all
equate to improved performance both on and off the field. Even more importantly, these children will gain more self-esteem, and better confidence.
Myths Behind Strength and Conditioning in Kids
You have probably heard of some myths, and this has led you to reading this article.
Yes, there has been talk of strength training and heavy lifting stunting growth in children, negatively affecting growth plates, and causing increased risk of injury. This all started back in the 1970’s with poor research looking at a population of children laborers and their physical characteristics. These children were found to be abnormally short. Many people believed this must have been from hours of lifting and heavy labor. The fact that these children were essentially malnourished and sleep deprived was completely ignored. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics clearly states that, yes, children should strength train. Repetitive maximal lifts, around 1 to 3 RM, should be avoided until signs of puberty. Otherwise, according to Dr. Avery Faigenbaum, a leader in pediatric exercise science states:
“If appropriate training guidelines are followed, regular participation in a young strength
training program as the potential to increase bone mineral density, improve motor
performance skills, enhance sports performance, and better prepare young athletes for
the demands of practice and competition.”.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Faigenbaum, the NSCA, and ACSM all agree
“The acceptance of youth resistance training by medical, fitness, and sports
organizations should now be universal.”⁴
And there is no better time than the present! From 2008 to 2014, specific research was done on fitness and activity levels in school aged children. This research revealed a significant downward trend in fitness and activity levels. Children in 2014 demonstrated weaker grip strength, poorer sit-up performance, decreased time spent in ability to hang from a bar, and overall less tolerance to activity.⁵
Let’s work together to improve the strength and health of the youth athlete population.
What about Injuries?
As previously mentioned, strength and conditioning in children can actually help protect
against injury. This protective mechanism comes from an increase in overall strength
and improved motor control. But several case reports actually demonstrate that youth
strength injuries are almost exclusively associated with misuse of equipment, inappropriate weights, or improper technique, no different than adult injuries.⁶ Luckily, there are sports and conditioning performance specialists that are highly trained to help your child improve in all areas of fitness, decreasing risk of injury, and overall improve their performance. Reach out to one of our specialists today to find out more on how we can help your child stay healthy and grow in their sport.