Strength Training is not training to see how much weight one can push around the gym. Simply stated, Strength Training is a method of conditioning that will increase an individual's ability to handle the physical demands of activity. Strength Training may involve the use of weights or other external resistance (bands, medicine balls, pulleys, etc.), it may involve body weight (push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, etc.), and it may involve the use of body weight and ground forces (skipping, hopping, jumping, etc.)
There is an interesting trend in the physical activity of today's youth, a trend that makes the integration of a strength training program more important than ever. Today, kids are specializing in a particular sport at an early age. Kids are picking one sport and playing it year round. Because of this specialization and the fact that kids do not engage in "free play" the way they are used to, young athletes today are not developing the fundamental motor skills, and musculoskeletal balance necessary for peak performance and injury prevention.
We all want our young athlete to be as successful on the field as possible. Coaches spend a great deal of time with young athletes on skills and drills. Parents enroll children in speed and agility camps and provide private instruction hoping to develop a better player. While skills and drills and sport specific instruction may make the player more profitable kicking a soccer ball or throwing a baseball, chances are they will not make them a better overall athlete, and they certainly will not decrease the chance of sport related injury.
Repetitive training of only specific sport related movements tend not only to limit performance, but sets the stage for faulty movement patterns and overuse injury. In most sports, common sites for overuse injuries include the heel, ankle, and knees. You can add shoulders and elbows to that list for the young baseball, tennis, and volleyball player. Well designed Strength Training programs will not only make muscles stronger but will strengthen other supporting tissues like bone, ligaments and tendons so decreasing the chance of acute injuries such and sprains and ligament tears.
Health organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), have helped put to rest the long held belief that strength training for children is unsafe and ineffective. These organizations now support the participation of children in appropriately designed and competently supervised strength training programs.
At what age can a child begin a strength training program? If a child has the capacity to follow directions, then the child is old enough to follow a properly designed and supervised age-specific strength training program. Protect your young athlete's future and let them bring their game to the next level.