When it comes to lifting weights and the youth athlete, a huge red flag usually goes up. It is believed to be a BIG NO! It is said that lifting weights is potentially dangerous to the growth plates for these youngsters.
Well I hate to break it to you, but as long as the appropriate considerations are taken into account, the above statement is completely inaccurate. A matter of fact, following and executing a proper resistance training program will lead to improved performance performance, increased bone strength, increased muscular strength, increased muscular endurance, increased coordination, and most importantly a reduced injury rate for the youth athlete. Believe it or not, the demands of some of the most common sports children participate in today, place a lot more strain, wear and tear on kids than a properly executed resistance training program.
Think about it, if weight lifting was dangerous for the youth athlete then would not it be just as dangerous if not more so for a baby that tries to stand up for the first time only to find him / herself fall back down. After all for a baby, is not their own body weight sufficient enough to be a form of weight bearing exercise? Even if that baby were to successfully stand up, it is probably close to a maximal lift and that's dangerous, too, right? See where I am going with this?
The biggest problem we face in regards to weight lifting is what type of resistance training is best for our young athletes. In today's society the overreaction of the perceived benefits of machine based training training is astronomical. The belief that the use of fitness machines is safe and effective due to the fact that machines remove the need for stabilization could not be further from the truth. Exercising on a fixed piece of equipment that puts you in a guided range of motion without the need to stabilize your own body does not make sense to me. The only benefit machine based exercise has is that it makes the exercise fool proof. All you have to do is sit down, grab the handles and push, pull, or whatever. Is this kind of exercise most beneficial with regards to improved performance and / or function? Think about it, in sports when was the last time you were sitting down with your back supported pressing a heavy weight in a fixed path? I can not think of any. What we see in sports is free ranges of movement in all directions with only the support of your own body. So instead of machine based training, we need to be coaching and implementing exercises and programs that reflect the actions needed not only for sport, but for life in general. So how do you do that? It is simple. Try free weight based training with correct form and technique.
I'm talking about free weight lifts like Olympic lifts (Clean, Jerk, Snatch and variations), or functional movements like squatting, pushing, pulling, bending, lunging, and twisting (all movements seen in all sports and daily activities). Performing these types of lifts is extremely beneficial to the youth athlete as they will accomplish everything a machine exercise does plus a whole lot more. For example it has been proven that Olympic lifts and functional movements will help develop coordination, movement skill, motor skill, as well as muscular strength and endurance. Machine based training will only provide local muscular strength / endurance. Olympic lifts and function movement exercises also tend to be more fun to do than sitting on a boring piece of equipment, and a fun environment is an important element to have when it comes to kids.
However, there is a slight draw back towards Olympic lifts and functional movements. It takes a highly qualified strength and conditioning coach to properly teach and implement these exercises correctly. So if you are a youth athlete, parent, or coach, do yourself a favor and look past all the hype of machine based training, seek out and higher professional help from a qualified strength coach to ensure that you or your kids are exercising correctly, safely, with the attention to actually improve performance, in a FUN and stimulating environment.