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
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