Youth sports are a great, great thing. They get kids involved in athletics, can teach some valuable skills, AND build character. That said, I’ve been around a LOT of youth programs and teams in my team, and many end up doing more harm than good by not knowing what’s good for their young athletes in regards to training.
Last time we talked about young athletes getting too much distance and endurance work (check out part 1 here), and today we’re going to tackle another issue that’s… frankly… a little more annoying to me.
See, the fact that this issue exists is just more evidence for a complete lack of common sense in regards to working with/training/preparing young athletes for success AND injury prevention “now”, as well as in the future.
Problem 2: “Scared of Strength.” Putting young athletes through a PROPERLY organized strength training program WILL NOT stunt their growth, get them injured, or make them grow wings and a mustache and fly away to join the circus…
I still don’t understand why so many people are truly afraid of strength training young athletes. There are myths out there, but frankly, they just don’t make sense… here’s why:
MYTH BUSTING 1: “If a young athlete strength trains it will stunt their growth!”
I’ll use myself as a quick example and then will get into a little more of why this just doesn’t make sense…
I started lifting weights in a cheap, sand-weight multi-use bench press set on the back porch when I was 10 or 11 years old. I was probably between 5 feet even and 5 foot 3 inches tall during that period when I first started lifting, (I’m estimating, but I DO remember vividly being 5’4″ on our football physical for 7th grade, so a couple years of growth before that I started lifting).
I lifted my little butt off and still remember heading to the high school weight room with another 6 grade buddy of mine (we were dedicated little turds 🙂 ), and showing up when a couple of the strongest linemen in the history of the school were lifting.
They helped us max out and test our lifts and I remember thinking I was cool because I could almost bench press my bodyweight (I think I lifted 95 pounds… likely with a generous spot, haha) and squatted like 115 or 135 (heck I had already been doing bleachers till I passed out for a couple of years).
Anyway, the point of that little trip down memory lane is to make the point that I basically did the most “unsafe” lifting possible according to the “stunt-your-growth” dummies (maxing out on a movement with a loaded spine: i.e. squatting) when I was about 5 foot 3.
10 years later and I’m 6’2″… over a foot taller than when I started lifting and the tallest person in my family. Still think it stunts your growth?
That’s me, #3, with my brother, mom, and dad. FYI dad’s about 6’1/6’0.5 and before me was the tallest guy in our “gene pool,” so it’s unlikely I was supposed to be 6’6″ and in the NBA 🙂
Rest assured that I wouldn’t be telling you this so confidently without further research, and that countries that are lightyears ahead of us train their young athletes young in order to allow them to fully develop and be as tall as they possibly can. Bottom line, proper strength training DOES NOT stunt your growth!
I seriously think this myth had to be perpetuated by a little 5’3″ guy who had dreams of professional basketball and lifted weights as a kid… Instead of chalking it up to being in a family with no one over 5 feet tall, he blamed lifting as a kid instead… ha!
MYTH BUSTING 2: “Strength training isn’t safe for young athletes!”
- First thing’s first, keep the reps low (I like 6-8 or less) to insure that the quality of each rep is the best it can possibly be.
- You can perform a pretty high number of sets, but if you’re just starting out you really don’t need to go crazy with any of this. Make it something fun and don’t worry about doing a million sets.
- Bodyweight exercises are KING for young athletes, but KEEP THE REPS LOW!
- My favorite exercises for getting the young athlete to CRUSH IT: different variations of pushups, variations of pullups, monkey bars and climbing exercises (FUN), light medicine ball throws, bodweight squats, kettlebell deadlifts (butt back chest up), rope climbs, short sprints (10-15 yards), and various gymnastics/tumbling movements (forward and backward rolls, etc.).
Oh, and about the whole grow wings and a mustache thing, you’re on your own 🙂
Check back later this week for part 3, and be sure to drop a comment and let me know what YOU think about youth sports!