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Nearly every child that finishes the fifth grade could and should take part in some form of strength training program. Whether they enjoy time outside, playing football, dancing, or even reading books, children can reap the benefits of weight training. To name a few, children as young as 7 or 8 years old will see improvements in their strength, bone density, balance, personal self-esteem, and the list goes on.1 The stigma that surrounds strength training for adolescents, even in their teen years, has evolved from the ideas that lifting weights or performing functional exercise causes injury, stunts growth, reduces performance, and/or reduces flexibility; none of which are true unless unnecessary or dangerous methods are used in the training of the adolescent child. Rather, several health care groups such as The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, agree that a supervised strength training program which follows the recommended guidelines is safe and effective for children.1 Nowadays, we see similar concerns in parents, coaches, and athletes about the athlete weight training while they are in-season because the strength training will mess up their throw or their shot. They may even disregard a weight training aspect of their preparation due to the fact they think their dancer, gymnast, or performer will bulk up and lose their current state of aesthetic; which is totally avoidable.2
As athletic trainers, we have a responsibility and an opportunity to educate our communities on the necessity of strength training with all types of student-athletes, during every stage of their high school careers. Obviously, this is no easy task, though it is necessary, so I have prepared a 5-step process towards changing the mindsets of those concerned with their child or athlete participating in strength training.
- Start Small – Before you go off and gather the troops to sit down and listen to your lecture on why their child should be lifting, talk to some concerned individuals one-on-one. This will give you a chance to understand the more common misconceptions on the concept, so you can better prepare your reasoning for recommending strength training.
- Listen – If you don’t show others that you are willing to listen to them, why should they listen to you? If a parent or athlete are kicking back against the idea of lifting, it’s because they are worried and that’s okay!! They have every reason to be worried because all that they know is what they heard and it’s their job to take precaution. They want what’s best. So, hear them out. If you want some additional help with learning how to actually listen (because truth is, most athletic trainers suck at listening but excel at spitting out knowledge) click here.
- Deliver – Once you understand the individuals’ main concerns, address those first. This is not your opportunity to school them with your profound and prepared knowledge on the subject. Instead, it’s your chance to make a difference in a developing, and hopeful child’s life, so take it seriously. Offer an understanding for their worries and present why their beliefs are not the case, though they are not alone in their thought process. When you talk about the potential benefits, use factual information and don’t stretch the truth. Cite the information you are talking about simply explaining the researchers that facilitated the study you are using to back your claims.
- Provide Guidance – Direct the individual towards educational sites and resources that they will be able to digest. Don’t just shoot them an email with links to your trusty articles on a foreign database that most of our clients have never seen. A good start would be to begin their search at a familiar, but trustworthy website such as the Mayo Clinic.
- Follow Up – Your journey towards educating your community shouldn’t stop with just one or two conversations on the subject. Use the details you have gathered from talking to individuals and develop a presentation, driven by common concerns and misconceptions in your community, which can be presented to parents and coaches at a parent meeting.
Outside of the unease that surrounds adolescent strength training, multi-sport athletes who don’t lift because they are “in-season” miss out on the developmental and performance enhancing benefits of strength training as well. Click Here to read my letter to parents, coaches, and athletes about this topic.
Athletic Trainers have too much potential to influence change to just sit idly by. Don’t let misconceptions about weight training fester in your community. Take action and EDUCATE!
- Dahab KS, McCambridge TM. Strength Training in Children and Adolescents: Raising the Bar for Young Athletes? Sports Health. 2009;1(3):223-226. doi:10.1177/1941738109334215.
- Angioi M, Metsios GS, Twitchett E, Koutedakis Y, Wyon M. Association between selected physical fitness parameters and aesthetic competence in contemporary dancers. J Dance Med Sci. 2009;13(4):115-123
No matter where you look on the internet, you’re going to find mixed reviews on whether or not your youth or high school athlete should specialize in one sport. Some will go the 10,000 hour route and argue that adolescents must have 10,000 hours under their belt in a specific sport to be an expert at it come college time. Others will remark about injury prevention, reductions in burnout, and improved success in the long run from being a multi-sport athlete. The truth is, there really isn’t a right or a wrong side to the story, though there are certainly considerations that must be taken for each. Personally, I am on the multi-sport side as I believe, for the majority of competitors, developing the athlete through adolescence is more important than perfecting skill. The National Youth Sport’s Health and Safety Institute agrees:
As a parent, I am assuming you want your child to be successful, healthy, and happy. Getting your child involved in sports was a step in the right direction and allowing them to find that drive to better themselves is easily going to transfer across multiple aspects of their lives. Although, this is typically where we start to fail in our ability to guide children through the misconceptions of sport. Whether your athlete plays multiple sports throughout the year, or specializes in one sport year round, the athlete should still have an “off-season,” the athlete should still take part in strength training during their “in-seasons,” and the athlete should have a complete 1-2 weeks recovery between seasons.
Training “in-season” for youth and high school athletes is growing in its importance as young athletes are competing in 3 or more seasons throughout the year. Specialized athletes will play on their high school team and then on a club team such as how basketball players playing on one or more AAU teams, outside of their high school team. If an athlete does not participate in strength training during their season, they may only lift for 4-6 weeks before the next season begins. And with that being the about the only break they would take all year it should be focused on rest and recovery. Athletes need 8-12 weeks of continued strength training in order to reap real benefits of training. Without proper commitment and consistency of strength training, real gains are difficult to come by. So, playing through multiple seasons of the year and not weight training will sharpen your skills, but typically these skills have a limited ceiling for potential. If you look at the higher levels of competition for sport (College, Professional, Olympic), the athletes are all extremely skilled. The factors that set the greats apart from the rest are with speed, strength and power. These factors can only truly be improved with strength training. The focus should be balanced between training the player AND the athlete within. Besides that, strength training will decrease their risk of injury especially with regards to the overuse injuries we see in so many specialized athletes today.
My Recommendation: Enroll your high school athlete in a weight training class or get them involved in a strength and conditioning program outside the school. Do NOT allow competitive events, practice dates, or conditioning times affect whether your child will strength train that day or day before. If the athlete’s worry is soreness harming their performance, inform them that soreness is a temporary part of strength training and after a few weeks, the soreness is much less intense and often times doesn’t set in at all. During the athletes “in-season” strength sessions should involved fewer sets, reps and load. During the “off-season” the reps, sets and load should be standard and the athletes diet should be monitored to ensure proper caloric intake. Every 7-8 weeks, the athlete should have a deloading week from their strength training. Don’t let the common mislead trends take a hold of your child’s ability to be successful in their sport participation. Sacrifice a season for primary focus on strength training, take those transition weeks off seriously and allow your child to just be a kid for that time, and don’t skip out on training sessions just because you have a “big game, or event,” as those days off will add up and reduce the benefits from strength training.