Begin strength training at a young age to perform better, avoid injury, and improve motor performance. Research shows that strength and preparatory plyometric training are appropriate for kids, and starting them training young will allow them to accumulate training years so that they reach a high level athleticism sooner.
Whether you are a young athlete with dreams of competitive glory, a coach of kids who have a passion for sports, or a parent with sedentary kids who need to learn how to move better, strength training is the answer! Research shows that youth are highly trainable and the best way to help them improve power output is to gain strength and coordination.
Youth athletes in football, soccer, track, hockey, tennis, basketball l, lacrosse, and especially contact sports will perform best if they posses sufficient strength to overcome and accelerate body mass. Even if a child does not decide to play competitive sports in high school, why not give them the chance to develop motor skills, and the ability to “move well” by helping improving neuromuscular strength and practicing jumping, running, hopping, and skipping?
Two recent studies show that strength training is appropriate for youth of all ages, and a wealth of evidence suggests they can start performing age-appropriate training as early as age 7 or 8. For example, one study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research had youth soccer players ranging in age from 11 to 19-years-old perform periodized strength training programs for two years. The youngest players (under 13) did technique-oriented training of traditional free weight exercises including the squat using very moderate loads. The older youth trained the same free weight exercises with heavier loads.
By the end of the study, compared to a control group of soccer players, the trainees had 40 to 50 percent higher 1RMs in the squat, indicating the effectiveness of strength training for youth. Researchers highlight the need to accumulate training years and learn technique in order to achieve peak levels of strength for the more competitive high school and college sporting years. By starting at 7 or 8, youth can have 10 years of training behind them at age 17.
A second study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that plyometric training is safe and will improve neuromuscular strength, which translates into better sports performance. Researchers found that kids aged 8 to 14 who took part in low-volume plyometric training improved jump height, running speed, and their ability to perform coordinated movements like running while throwing a ball.
This research group suggests that plyometric training for youth be done one to three times a week with a relatively low volume of jumps (as low as 20 foot touches up to 120 touches per session) depending on the intensity of the training. Avoid depth jumps done off of a box, especially for youth who are undergoing growth spurts. Use what we know about periods of “accelerated adaptation” to guide programming.
For example, for boys, ages 10 to 11, age 13, and then ages 15 to 16 are considered “windows” in which youth will adapt to training very quickly. There is typically a decrease in strength and neuromuscular performance from age 11 to 12 and from 13 to 14, due to what is termed “adolescent awkwardness.” This doesn’t mean training needs to be discontinued, just that decreases in strength or performance are natural during maturation, and should be accounted for. If a trainee or parent is concerned, the information can be communicated to lessen worries about decreased performance.
Take away the understanding that strength and plyometric training is appropriate and ideal for kids as long as it is programmed and taught appropriately. Training should be serious but enjoyable, and begin with a focus on learning technique, improving movement patterns and the basic skills of running, jumping, throwing, and hopping.
McKay, D., Henschke, N. Plyometric Training Programs Improve Motor Performance in Prepubertal Children. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2012. 46, 727-728.
Keiner, M., Sander, A., et al. Trainability of Adolescents and Children in the Back and Front Squat. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.