Weight training for teens: Do it right

By Jamie Bell
Columnist for the Journal

Recently as I watched the NBA Finals, I was reminded of a widely accepted fact: over the last 20 years, athletes in every sport have gotten bigger, stronger, faster. The competitive nature of sports, year-round club teams, and improvements in training and nutrition have all contributed to the constant advancement in human performance. Just showing up for practice every day after school isn’t sufficient for most kids anymore. The highly-competitive environment of sports at every level has created demand for additional training and resources for our children beyond their usual team practice.

The problem with this is that as young athletes seek out methods and training to gain a competitive edge, they often participate in weight training activities without supervision or proper instruction. Particularly pre-adolescents and teens who have access to weight rooms and gyms can be found attempting to lift more weight than they should and with terrible technique and form. This practice can cause injury and is not helpful in development of the athlete.

Weight training in teens is actually very beneficial, but it has to be done correctly. With a few adjustments, weight training can help young athletes gain the power, coordination, and speed they need to compete at a high level.

In the MayoClinic report “Strength Training: OK for Kids When Done Correctly” the article lists the benefits of resistance or weight training for kids.

“Done properly, strength training can: Increase your child’s muscle strength and endurance, help protect your child’s muscles and joints from sports-related injuries, improve your child’s performance in nearly any sport, from dancing and figure skating to football and soccer, and develop proper techniques that your child can continue to use as he or she grows older” (January 2006).

Weight training can be a positive addition to a teen’s sports training program, if the following elements are present:

1) Correct Supervision and Instruction: When lifting and moving any sort of object or weight, proper body mechanics, form, and technique are absolutely crucial. Correct technique is not only critical for safety and to prevent injury, but also to gain what is desired from the movement or lift. Having your child supervised by someone trained and competent in the Olympic Lifts as well as other common weightlifting movements is necessary for their success and safety. Ask your instructor about their certifications and experience before trusting them to coach your child.

2) Slow and Steady Progressions in Load: One of the biggest mistakes coaches make with children and teens is loading them up with too much weight before they have proven competency and consistency with correct form and posture. When an athlete learns a complex lift, for example the Snatch, there is much to be gained in the way of power and strength simply from the neuromuscular coordination that is involved in successful execution of the lift. Weight is only to be added when the child has demonstrated significant mastery of the movement.

Weight lifting in the proper environment and with the right instruction can be a benefit to every young athlete. Even teens not interested in sports competition can improve their health, fitness, and body image with weight training. Extensive research has been done supporting the idea that weight training does not have adverse affects on growing bodies but is actually quite beneficial, when done properly.

Jamie Bell is the co-owner of Kulak CrossFit in Chubbuck and a health and exercise enthusiast. She holds several CrossFit certifications, including one for kids/teens. Bell is also a licensed physical therapist assistant, a Former ISU track heptathalete and the proud mother of four.

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