What is your gut reaction when you see a video of a youth athlete performing Olympic lifts? How about an older adult doing a deadlift? Is it appropriate? Is it safe? Should you be performing them? How do we begin strength training? As we move into summer programs, especially for our youth athletes, these questions need to be answered! This article will offer the key FUNdamentals regarding how to begin strength training for youth athletes.
Youth Athletes Beginning Strength Training
This post may very well turn into one of those, “if I knew then, what I know now” pieces. When I was a youth athlete, I was educated that strength training is important, but I had NO idea where to start. Naturally, seeing my dad and brother hitting reps with the bench press, my thought became benching is the answer! After working with many individuals across the lifespan we have found that this is common, people want to train and understand the benefits; however, they do not know where to start. We are movement optimists and believe there is no such thing as a “bad exercise”; however, there is definitely inappropriate timing and volume of particular exercises. Olympic lifts, deadlifts, agility training, power training, and so forth is safe for individuals of all ages IF implemented wisely onto a cultivated foundation. Our early programs need to be based on the fundamentals of Training Age. This concept gives us a starting point, no matter what age you want to begin your fitness journey! We strongly advocate fitness and strength training across the lifespan!
Benefits Of Strength Training For Youth Athletes
We are big advocates when it comes to strength training for youth athletes, but there is plenty of scientific research to support just how valuable implementing this form of training is!
Clinical Practice Guides Recommendation Level A (highest level) for the use of exercise-based knee injury prevention programs in athletes for the prevention of knee and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries.
O’Kane et al 2017 found for youth female soccer players; a 1 standard deviation increase in hamstring strength was associated with a 35 percent reduction in injury risk. Furthermore, a 1 standard deviation increase in quadriceps strength reduced the risk of injury by 30 percent.
Sticking with the soccer theme, Zouita et al 2016, found strength training reduced the risk of injuries 3-fold over the course of one soccer season.
Laureson et al 2018 found a dose-dependent relationship between strength training and the association of injury reduction.
Lastly, Lesinski et al 2016, conducted a systematic review with meta-analysis and found resistance training to be an effective method to improve strength and jump performance.
Learn The Fundamentals of Fitness and Strength Training
This program will take you through the fundamentals of strength training and progress you to more functional, advanced movements. Not sure where to start with your exercise programming? This is the program that will teach you.
Benefits Of Strength Training For Older Adults
As a whole, strength training builds resilience and capacity to reduce injury and improve performance in youth athletes. However, what about older adults? Don’t fret, there is more scientific research to support the benefits of implementing strength training for older adults as well. As we like to say, start them young and keep them going to preserve life longevity!
Brito et al 2012 found those aged 51-80 who were unable to sit and rise from the floor without external assistance were 6.4x more likely to die in the next 2 years, whereas improving score by 1 point correlated to a 21 percent reduction in the likelihood of death!
Swank et al 2011 found significant efficacy of [P]Rehab in older adults with severe knee osteoarthritis awaiting total knee replacement.
When divulging into the fundamentals of training age, there is a big difference between your biological and training age. Biological age corresponds to the number of candles on your birthday cake. Training age is related to years of training experience in a particular exercise domain. For example, an athlete that has focused solely on resistance training for 3 years would have a resistance training age of 3 and a plyometric training age of 0. As much as biological age is individualized to you, training age follows suit! Therefore, we cannot assume every athlete on a team or every individual at the age of 10 or 50 is able to complete the same style of workouts. Performance outcome can be thought of as the finish line and potentially as our “why” for training and it is specific to the individual. A youth athlete’s performance outcome may be to throw a ball faster, whereas an older adult’s performance outcome may be to get on the floor to play with grandchildren. These programs will ultimately look different as a whole, however, if each individual has a training age of 0, the starting point may look extremely similar! Training age is a great concept to understand regarding the fundamentals of getting started with a training age of 0.
Below is our program to get you started on learning foundational patterns! We will focus on low resistance and high reps for motor learning. Resistance training will mostly be bodyweight to complement foundational development!
How To Begin Strength Training For Youth Athletes: Define The Starting Point
No matter the end goal, if your training age is 0, the focus is on utilizing Integrative Neuromuscular Training and honing in on the FUNdamentals of training. Myer et al 2014 defines integrative neuromuscular training as “defined herein as a training program that incorporates general (e.g., fundamental movements) and specific (e.g., exercises prescribed to target motor control deficits) strength and conditioning activities including resistance training, dynamic stability exercises, core-focused training, plyometric drills and agility training that are specifically designed to enhance health and skill-related components of physical fitness.”
In other words, build a really strong foundation focusing on patterning and understanding the movements before adding load, velocity, or other complexities to it. Before deadlifting, bench pressing, and throwing, learn a hip hinge, pushup, and balance, respectively.
Hip Hinge With Dowel
HOW: Begin in a standing position with your feet about hip-width apart. Place a dowel behind your back with one end making contact with your head and on your tailbone with the other end, the middle of the dowel should also be in contact with your mid-back. Make sure you keep in contact with these three points for the entirety of the movement. Next focus on hinging primarily at the hips. This is achieved by bringing your torso forward and pushing your butt back. Lower yourself as far as you feel comfortable while maintaining all three points of contact, then pull yourself upright by using the muscles in the back of the legs. Squeeze your butt once you are upright to ensure that you stand fully erect.
FEEL: You will feel the muscles in the back of the legs work with this exercise. As you hinge over you will feel a pull in the hamstrings, the back upper thigh muscles.
COMPENSATION: Avoid rounding the back as you lean your torso forward. Movement should primarily be at the hips. Don’t allow the knees to go forward past your toes with this exercise. Maintain the 3 points of contact during this exercise, (tail bone, mid-back, and back of the head).
Want To Find Out Your 1 Rep Max? Try This Easy and Safe Alternative!
Start on your hands and your feet, and have your hands positioned under your shoulders. To begin the exercise, assume a high plank position while keeping your body straight lower your chest down towards the ground as far as you can, push up to the starting position, and repeat. This should feel like an upper body workout, your shoulders, chest, and triceps. You should also feel your core and your glutes/quads working to maintain a straight body from your heels to the back of your head.
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Single Leg Balance
Position yourself standing in a corner with your back to it, or with a wall, chair, or sturdy object near you. Pick up one foot and balance on the leg that is in contact with the ground on a firm surface. Focus on standing upright and not letting yourself lean side-to-side or forward or backward. It is ok to let your hip and knee bend a little bit. You should feel like your balance is being challenged. If you’re having difficulty maintaining your balance, use your fingertips on the surface near you as needed or try to focus on an object in the distance or near you with your eyes.
@brett_cummons said “do not give a Ferrari to a new driver” in reference to training youth pitchers velocity before they have fundamental skills of pitching such as single-leg balance. For example, Garrison et al 2013 showed baseball players with UCL tears scored significantly lower on the Y Balance Test. They also looked at the total rotation range of motion and found this to be a contributing factor. However, it does not take away from the point of the importance of having a foundational base to allow complex movement!
Get set up in a standing position balancing on one foot on a firm surface. While maintaining balance, reach with your opposite foot in a Y-orientation – see video for demonstration and tips.
The first phase of strength training for youth athletes should focus on 70 percent movement pattern training and 30 percent resistance training. Think of a short-term sacrifice for long term development or setting the stage for gains, then working towards the gains when appropriate. As training age progresses these numbers flip to 70 percent resistance training and 30 percent fundamentals. However, note that FUNdamental training never fully goes away!
One of the major rules of motor learning is the activity must be challenging yet successful. Having the tools and support structure to overcome obstacles is rewarding, which in the brain leads to long term storage and skill acquisition. For example, Adolph et al 2012 found that 12-19-month-olds on average fall 17 times per hour while learning this skill. How can we fail SO MANY times yet keep trying?
We think it is due to the support, encouragement, and safety caretakers give us during this time. If you make an error and fall over, most caretakers would not say “Hey baby that was terrible, you forgot to engage your core.” Instead, they run to your side and provide encouragement, before you know it you’re walking! We are humans which means that we are not perfect. Mistakes will be made and this is a great thing, as mistakes allow us to learn and understand at deeper levels. Madigan et al 2018 found that in junior athletes, perfectionistic concerns emerged as a significant positive predictor of injury. If you are a coach, trainer, physio, healthcare provider, etc. don’t be a bully, aim to be positive, and provide encouragement to your athletes! If you are starting a training program today, do not aim to be perfect, aim to be human, and commit to enjoying the process. We are here to help guide that process as desired and to answer the question of how to begin strength training!
Learn How To Train For Longevity
Construct the foundation to build the house upon. That is what fitness fundamentals are all about. We often try to rush the process instead of slowing down and making sure you have a good understanding of movement standards before loading a bunch of weight on top of it. What’s the difference between a squat and a hip hinge? Should you be bench pressing if you can’t do a push-up? Should you be running if you are unable to do a single-leg stance? Let’s take out the guesswork and take 4 weeks to answer these questions and to make sure you are set up for long-term results in a fitness program!
Arundale AJH, Bizzini M, Giordano A, et al. Exercise-Based Knee and Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Prevention. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2018;48(9):A1-A42.
O’kane JW, Neradilek M, Polissar N, Sabado L, Tencer A, Schiff MA. Risk Factors for Lower Extremity Overuse Injuries in Female Youth Soccer Players. Orthop J Sports Med. 2017;5(10):2325967117733963
Zouita S, Zouita AB, Kebsi W, et al. Strength Training Reduces Injury Rate in Elite Young Soccer Players During One Season. J Strength Cond Res. 2016;30(5):1295-307.
Lauersen JB, Andersen TE, Andersen LBStrength training as superior, dose-dependent and safe prevention of acute and overuse sports injuries: a systematic review, qualitative analysis and meta-analysisBritish Journal of Sports Medicine 2018;52:1557-1563.
Lesinski M, Prieske O, Granacher U. Effects and dose-response relationships of resistance training on physical performance in youth athletes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2016;50(13):781-95.
Brito LB, Ricardo DR, Araújo DS, Ramos PS, Myers J, Araújo CG. Ability to sit and rise from the floor as a predictor of all-cause mortality. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2014;21(7):892-8.
Swank AM, Kachelman JB, Bibeau W, et al. Prehabilitation before total knee arthroplasty increases strength and function in older adults with severe osteoarthritis. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(2):318-25.
Garrison JC, Arnold A, Macko MJ, Conway JE. Baseball players diagnosed with ulnar collateral ligament tears demonstrate decreased balance compared to healthy controls. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2013;43(10):752-8.
Myer GD, Lloyd RS, Brent JL, Faigenbaum AD. How Young is “Too Young” to Start Training?. ACSMs Health Fit J. 2013;17(5):14-23.
Adolph KE, Cole WG, Komati M, et al. How do you learn to walk? Thousands of steps and dozens of falls per day. Psychol Sci. 2012;23(11):1387-94.
Madigan DJ, Stoeber J, Forsdyke D, Dayson M, Passfield L. Perfectionism predicts injury in junior athletes: Preliminary evidence from a prospective study. J Sports Sci. 2018;36(5):545-550.
About The Author
Dillon Caswell, PT, DPT, SCS
[P]rehab Audio Experience Host
[P]rehab Program Manager
Dillon is a Sports Physical Therapist, performance coach, and adjunct professor residing in Syracuse, NY whose passion is providing holistic solutions to improve all aspects of human performance. Along with working with clinical athletes across the lifespan, he provides on field coverage for youth and semi-professional teams. After his undergraduate studies at Syracuse University, he earned his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from SUNY Upstate Medical University, where he now serves as an Adjunct Professor. He is the founder and owner of AP3T: Action Potential Performance Physical Therapy practicing wellness, prevention, and solution-based health care. In his free time, he enjoys family dinners, playing with his dog, and competing as a CrossFit athlete. Dillon honors the opportunity to join the [P]rehab guys to influence and educate in a people first system!
Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.