Common misconceptions about youth training:
1. "You're going to make my kids train too heavy."
Everybody is always worried that as a coach, I'll load up the kids with weights that are heavy. For one, I don't really load up anyone with weights that are too heavy for them, whether youth or not. One has to build the proper foundation of mobility, stability, and movement patterns before one should load any movement. Usually it takes some time to properly address one of or all 3 of those categories, so you generally don't end up loading youth very heavy for quite You also have to build up their energy systems and core strength before they are even capable of lifting anything heavy properly. It isn't good to load up people with weights that they can't yet lift properly, whether young or old. So I don't do it. I meet people where they are at and work with them to improve from there. Sometimes that means mobility before strength, sometimes that means stability before strength, sometimes that means technique before strength, sometimes that means energy system development concurrent with high to mid rep range strength building. What I don't do is make kids lift weights they aren't prepared for.
2."My kid is going to have his growth stunted from weightlifting."
For one, that is a myth. There is no real evidence to be found about proper resistance training stunting growth. Proper nutrition combined with age appropriate resistance training will result in health and growth to their full potential, rather than the stunting of growth.
This myth probably originated due to fear of injuring a growth plate from weightlifting, which if this happened, could possibly interfere with the growth of that particular bone. The thing is that weightlifting does not often cause or result in growth plate fractures. Bone fractures are complicated as there are lots of classifications, and the likelihood of growth being stunted by a fracture depends on the severity and location of the fracture. Even with a fracture though, most do not occur at growth plates (only about 15%). And even if a fracture does occur at a growth plate, most cases result in good outcomes, with only extremely bad injuries resulting in long term growth disturbance (statistically very small).
This is where it gets interesting though:
THE MOST COMMON CAUSE OF GROWTH PLATE FRACTURES IN YOUTH IS FALLING, whether from falling off a bike, falling off a playground structure, or falling while playing a competitive sport, then accidents like car crashes.
THE INCIDENCE OF GROWTH PLATE INJURY IS HIGHEST AT PEAK GROWTH IN HEIGHT VELOCITY. This means kids actively in growth spurts are more likely to experience growth plate issues than kids who are not, so it is wise to reduce high impact activities during their growth spurts, such as competitive sport with lots of jumping, landing, sprinting, and fast change of direction.
Training can help build up strength, balance, stability, coordination, technique, and being generally physically prepared can reduce the likelihood of some falls ever occurring, as well as improve their ability to land or absorb forces from the ground. In some cases this could reduce the likelihood of injury compared to an untrained person. The same is true for adults and elderly folks. In any case, kids generally don't fall when training with me under a controlled environment.
3. "What do kids need training for?"
For this, revisit part I of this series. There are many things that kids are not prepared for that they encounter in sport and life. The impact from jumping, landing, and cutting for example. The forces that they encounter doing these dynamic activities are very high, much higher than what they would even encounter in early stages of training - they should at least know proper technique and be trained to absorb some of the forces they will be experience in a predictable way - this will at least give them a chance to perform well and not hurt themselves. There are so many more benefits and things to work on - Mobility, Flexibility, Coordination, Balance, Speed, Agility, Strength, Power, the list goes on. Kids that have been sedentary for most of the year shouldn't expect to be thrust into highly competitive sport situations and expect to not have issues. Why not give your kid a foundation of fitness and mechanics from which they can more competently go and play sports or go do an activity?
4. "It's best to train my kid in a sport specific, specialized way."
I don't believe in single sport year round specialization for developing athletes and youth. Single sports do not provide enough variety and training in all capacities, movement patterns, and energy systems. Year round participation in one sport is also likely to cause overuse injuries that could be avoided if kids rotated through sports in their natural seasons, it also encourages building a more well rounded base. Kids should learn and participate in a large variety of sports.
They should experiment and learn lots of new skills and build all the general characteristics. They should build their overall physical competency and learn lots of movement patterns, they can draw from those for the rest of their lives. As they get older towards the end of high school or college, they can start to narrow down and specialize if they want to become a pro. More and more high level athletes were dual sport athletes even at the college level before they went pro. It absolutely is not necessary to specialize your kid into one sport, even if you want them in the future to play at an extremely high level. In many ways it is way more inhibitory and problematic than it is helpful long term.
An easy hypothetical example to point out the problems with early sport specialization is talking to a parent about a child who is pitcher. They may ask me to work on throwing with their son so they can throw harder. They might mention working on arm strength or additional throwing. Meanwhile the kid pitches year round and has for years and already experiences pain in the shoulder and elbow.
In this situation the kid needs core strengthening, mobility, stability, and hip and leg power training. Some rotational medball throwing drills can help build power and convert the strength improvement to improved velocity; and general upper body strength building will be slightly helpful, but less so than previously mentioned factors.
What they don't need is ANY additional baseball throwing or arm strengthening when you view it in the context of how much they already throw in game and practice year round.
Early sport specialization is generally a fast track to injury and extremely imbalanced and dysfunctional movers.
General physical preparation and multiple sport participation reduces the likelihood of injury and results in more balanced and functional movers. They concurrently build more athleticism and skills from which to draw from in the future.
5. "My kid will get bulky."
In youth, strength gains are largely neurological. You won't notice muscle mass increase because their hormones aren't right for it (unless they have already reached a certain physiological developmental stage), but you will notice neurological changes. Their nervous system gets better at recruiting and using the muscle mass that they already have, and this results in some respectable strength increases. One doesn't train kids to make little children Arnold Schawrzeneggers, you train them to just build better general physical preparedness.
We still have the concept of periods of development sensitivity for various physical characteristics, training at various phyiological stages, as well as a detailed explanation of how I would go about building up youth athletes in the gym.
some pubmed research articles on the topic of growth plate injuries and youth sport specialization and associated effects on injury rates
Should my kids train at QSC?
Without hesitation, the answer is yes. You just have to make sure of a few things:
I could do this for hours. YOUR KIDS NEED BASIC PREPARATION FOR LIFE SO THEY CAN HAVE A CHANCE TO GO OUT THERE AND NOT HURT THEMSELVES. We need to give them a good foundation from which to draw upon during specialization of athletics as they get older. You build generalists out of the youth, and then if needed, start specializing them later.
They say the youth is the future, so the question to ask yourself is this:
We've all been there - we were traveling for a few weeks, we had a really bad sickness; somehow the fitness program got derailed.
So it's your plan to get back on the fitness program, but you find yourself with absolutely no motivation. You feel apathetic about it. It's like Newton's first law: "objects in motion tend to stay in motion, objects at rest tend to stay at rest." You find your mind is trying to tell you to stay at rest. So you're rationalizing about why it's hard, and accepting excuses to procrastinate. You are so focused on other aspects of your daily life that you try to convince yourself that you don't have time.
Then the decline in fitness gets real as you lose control over your fitness, health, and decision making process. When you don't take care of yourself physically, combined with less than great decisions about what you eat, you get some pretty bad results. Now, instead of re-establishing your fitness from a point where you had only dropped 5 - 10%, now you might have to start from a point that is much farther away, as your fitness and health have fallen off a cliff. This happens to people all the time, and it's always a grind re-establishing the routine after things like business trips, international travel, sicknesses, or the like.
So how the hell does one get back to it? I'll share what I did after my international trip.
When I got back, I was jetlagged, and found myself unmotivated to push hard in the gym at all. I could feel that I had lost some fitness, and had lost some leanness. I was excited to help all my clients get back to all their training, but personally I was struggling to get my own program in gear. It was just sheer discipline that I got myself doing anything for basically the entire first week.
I record all my workouts on TrainHeroic, I mention this because even just the act or recording can be a motivating force, as I do not like to see on the calendar that I did nothing to get fitter. This establishes accountability. I could share every single workout I did over the last 3 and a half weeks since I got back, but I'll just share the basics for the purpose of communicating how I did it:
- I had to start with what I considered "extremely" easy conditioning - a few 5:00 intervals on the AirBike at a very slow pace - I had zero energy or motivation for anything harder at that moment, and I remember being very frustrated that such an easy workout, didn't feel that easy.
- The next day I slightly increased the total duration on the bike, and slightly increased the pace, and added some core work.
- The day after I worked on some light and technical drills for the Snatch. I felt surprisingly good and moved well, but just felt less powerful than I'm used to. I added some upper body weightlifting after, and I increased the intensity on the AirBike intervals again. I felt great after the workout, and then was totally caught off guard by the ensuing soreness for DAYS. I could barely believe it. Before the trip, that wouldn't have made me sore at all, but at this point it was like I had done a REALLY tough workout. That left me extremely frustrated.
- The day after that I went into some light to medium intensity Plyo Drills and some light running intervals, more core work, more strength work, and more AirBike with gradually increased difficulty each day. I had to do a lot of foam rolling and flossing of the calves and hamstrings to get away with that and recover from it.
- Took the weekend off, then got straight back into a similar pattern the next week, except I added more volume and frequency for upper body strength, and added more frequency for olympic weightlifting while keeping intensity and volume relatively low. I added more deliberate recovery methods for my legs - this made the recovery faster and the thought of doing lower body strength movements more bearable. At this point my progress was improving and it was starting to get motivating again, but it was still a grind.
The next week I followed the pattern similarly again, but with a particular variable raised; either volume, intensity, or frequency of everything.
Circling back to Newton's first law "objects at rest tend to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force." You've got to use your head to impart that force (strength of will + physical training) to get yourself moving again and building momentum on your program, even if the force is barely enough to get moving in the beginning. It gets easier as you go.
These are photos from some of the Snatch work I was talking about, and then a photo from one of the first times I was getting back on the Bike and I was barely able to get myself onto the bike at all haha. You gotta overcome that resistance to train. You run in to a lot of barriers and difficulties, both physically and emotionally, when attempting to come back like this. Just expect them and accept that there will be difficulties, just keep showing up and putting the work in.
SO here I am now, 3 and a half weeks later
- my cardio is probably only 0.5 - 1 week away from where it was before I left.
- my strength is probably 1 - 2 weeks off from where it was.
- my ability to handle the volume of strength work for the lower body may still be 2 - 3 weeks away.
It may take 2 - 5 weeks to get back to where you were, depending on initial fitness level, and that's if you're dedicated and you do a good job! That's ok, just accept it and keep moving forward.
The point is this:
Everything is cumulative in fitness, so put down more days that you did enough to get fitter than days where you got less fit. Have faith in the training process, give your body time to adjust to the stimulus. It will, and after a few weeks, you'll be killing it just as you were before the break!
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