Ask The Experts
Building strength safely with young athletes
Q: My 10-year-old son will be playing his second season of football this fall. Last year was a struggle for him because the other kids in the league had already been playing for a few years. My son has brought up the idea of weight training. He feels it will help him get stronger and play better. Is this the right move for his growth and development?
A: While I think it's great that your son is seeking ways to improve as an athlete, your concerns about weight training at such an early age are certainly valid. Since his growth plates are not yet closed, he runs the risk of serious injury by performing exercises improperly, or with too much weight – two things that are especially common amongst kids who weight train at an early age.
This is not to suggest that children around your son's age can't benefit from training to become stronger; the key is how they go about it.
By engaging in a properly designed and supervised training program, young athletes can improve such qualities as balance, coordination and spatial awareness during "sensitive periods" in their development, where acquisition of these types of skills is at its highest. When done in concert with body weight strengthening exercises such as squats, lunges and push-ups, this type of approach affords kids the opportunity to build a proper athletic foundation, before moving on to more advanced forms of training when their bodies become more physically mature.
Have him start out by first learning to control his own body in space with simple balancing exercises like standing on one leg, or focusing on proper running mechanics with drills like high knees, or even simple skipping. You can also add in some body weight squats with a hold at the bottom to engrain a good athletic stance and some planks and push-ups to increase core strength.
As he progresses, consider adding in some bands and medicine balls for extra resistance. This way, once he's a little older and is ready to start a structured weight training program he'll have an excellent movement foundation in place and be much less prone to injury.
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Mike Mejia is the founder of B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning Inc., a company that provides physical training and educational resources for young athletes. A former contributor and training advisor to Men's Health magazine, Mike's work is currently prominently featured on USA Swimming.org and the national STOP Sports Injuries campaign's official blog. He also serves as a regular columnist for STACK magazine, Inside Lacrosse, and Splash (the official publication of USA Swimming). Learn more at www.basesportsconditioning.com
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