5 Movements Youth Athletes Need to Train
According to Stanford Children’s Health Organization, about thirty million children and teens participate in some form of organized sports, and more than 3.5 million injuries occur each year. Perhaps this is due to the fact that many of these athletes are going through their “peak height velocity” period, also known as the growth spurt. Growth spurts usually occur at around age 12 for females and age 14 in males. During this phase, bones weaken, muscle imbalances develop, and muscle-tendon units tighten. All of which are risk factors for injury. Young athletes who do not strength train will be limited in their ability to absorb the stressful forces associated with organized sports. A large chunk of these injuries could be avoided if more youth athletes participated in safe, structured strength and conditioning programs that place emphasis on body control.
One of the leading myths out there is the notion that strength training is dangerous for kids. In reality, weightlifting is very safe compared to traditional sports. Parents are out there worrying about their children getting injured, but the solution for reducing the risk is right there in front of us. Injury prevention is only one of the many benefits of youth resistance training. Imagine the advantage an eight-year-old athlete will have by the time he/she gets to high school if he/she learns how to train safely at a young age.
Two key considerations for youth strength training are safety and simplicity. These kids are in the heart of their developmental stage. It’s a delicate time because physical, hormonal, and mental maturation is rapidly occurring at variable rates amongst their peers. That is why qualified, experienced professionals should administer these training sessions. Training this group does not need to be complex from an exercise selection standpoint. There are five movements I find imperative for youth athletes as young as six years old to learn. These five movements are the squat, hinge, lunge, upper body pull and upper body push. Dr. John Rusin promotes these movements in his brand because they have tremendous carryover to not just athletic performance, but everyday life.
#1 – The Squat
The squat is often viewed as the godfather of lower body strength development exercises. It is a fundamental athletic movement pattern because it maintains adequate hip and ankle mobility and helps develop core strength and lower body strength. By analyzing how one squats, strength coaches can spot several culprits for faulty movement patterns. Common issues stem anywhere from poor motor control / coordination, limited ankle mobility, knee instability, poor hip mobility, weight shift to the right or left, trunk instability, poor core control, and tightness in muscles and joints. By learning how to squat young, we can progressively add load, leading to serious strength gains.
#2 – The Hip Hinge
The hip hinge is the ability to get the hips to move while not allowing the lumbar spine to flex along with it. When the hips cannot move the way we need them to, we compensate by recruiting the low back to take over the task. The result is compromising the integrity of the spine by asking it to do a job it wasn’t designed to do. Learning this movement is a game-changer for posterior chain strength development. It is also a key movement for young athletes to master because it is utilized in common sports performance training exercises like the Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift, Kettle-Bell swing, etc. Poor execution with heavy load is a recipe for a low back injury.
#3 – The Lunge
Lunging is great for athletes involved in sports that encompass a lot of running, cutting, jumping, kicking, etc. because it involves movement at the hip, knee and ankle joints. Aside from the many variations of the lunge, the key benefit of the lunge is that it is a single leg exercise. All athletes’ need single leg strengthening exercises because when running, the athlete is never on both legs at the same time.
#4 – The Upper Body Pull
Kids spend so much time slouched at their desks in school and slouched on their phones it should be no surprise that we’re seeing more kids stuck in a kyphotic posture (rounded upper back). To make matters worse, youth athletes are more likely to have imbalanced strength ratios with more strength residing in the anterior (front) vs. posterior (back). By learning how to perform upper body pulling exercises, we can get back into healthier postures and balance out these strength ratios, which will reduce the risk of an upper body injury.
#5 – The Upper Body Push
Young athletes need to possess the ability to produce force in the upper body. Strengthening the muscles of the chest has great carryover to a variety of sports. Some examples include basketball players when they need to throw chest passes with speed, offensive and defensive lineman when they need to push opposing defenders, baseball players when they need to swing the bat and when they need to throw out runner’s from out the outfield, swimmers during various strokes, etc.
The ability to move through various patterns in a controlled manner is a critical life skill. Have you ever noticed how easy it is for an infant to hold a full depth squat with picture-perfect form? Now compare that to an adolescent whose body is rapidly growing. Better yet, a 50-year-old sedentary adult who works a desk job. Our bodies quietly beg for us to move them and the longer we ignore these signs, the hole only gets deeper to climb out of. Your back shouldn’t hurt when bending down to pick up a laundry basket and your knees shouldn’t hurt when you get out of bed in the morning. Many of these pestering aggravations can be avoided as we age by learning to appreciate the many benefits of simply moving early in life. Those are some prime reasons why us strength coaches preach “Start em’ young”. So, when is the perfect time for youth athletes to become introduced to the basics of strength training? In the words of renowned strength coach Eric Cressey, yesterday!
Michael has been a strength coach at Olympia Fitness and Performance for three years. Michael graduated from Rhode Island College where he studied Community Health & Wellness with a concentration in Wellness & Movement studies. After graduating, Mike went on to get his CSCS (certified strength and conditioning specialist) through the NSCA. He is also a Certified Speed and Agility Coach, as well as a TPI certified coach. In his three years as a strength coach, Mike has helped clients from all walks of life improve their fitness levels. He has a strong passion for helping young athletes not just improve their athletic performance, but also helping them build confidence.
- Beachle, Thomas. Earle, Roger. 2012. Essentials of Strength and Conditioning. Third Edition. National Strength and Conditioning Association.
- Stanford’s Children’s Health. Sports Injury Statistics. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=sports-injury-statistics-90-P02787