While scrolling through my Facebook page, I came across a video of a very young athlete a parent had sent me of their son performing a barbell squat on his back. His knees caved in, his back was rounded and the weight he was using appeared to be too much, in my view, because of how he looked unstable through his hips and lower back. It also appeared there was no strength coach correcting these unsafe errors (they might have been the ones taking the video?), which was a huge concern.
My other concern I had was, what would be the thought and ideas planted in the minds of other parents who would see this video and want their child to follow suit? As one parent told me not too long ago, “I have to make sure that my kids don’t fall behind” — as he talked to me about his 7-year-old child!
With “youth training” happening all over the place, it is easy for parents to fall into the mindset that, if their kid isn’t training — and training hard — they’re going to be left on the sideline. What many don’t realize is that bad training is worse than no training, because not training in the right way can have disastrous consequences down the line.
This isn’t to say kids shouldn’t strength train — not at all. At Coach Rozy Performance, we run a junior program, our “Movement Skills for Life” program. Within the program, we teach kids how to move correctly and progress into patterns of movement and use strength training as part of the progression. The benefits we see are tremendous, but it’s crucial to approach the experience with care and use gradual progression and long-term development.
So, how do you know when your child is ready for strength training? A multitude of factors are at play here, such as age and maturity, correct movement patterns, training capability and mental readiness.
According to the Mayo Clinic, kids even as young as age 7 or 8 can begin strength training with little risk.
“As early as age 7 or 8, however, strength training can become a valuable part of an overall fitness plan — as long as the child is mature enough to follow directions and practice proper technique and form,” the Mayo Clinic writes. The resistance doesn’t have to come from weights, either. Resistance tubing and body-weight exercises such as push-ups are other effective options.”
There are a number of ways to add resistance and help to overload the body to help make it stronger. Should parents feel like their kids have to start strength training this early? Certainly not. But, if both the parent and the child have an interest, it’s a possibility. However, children that young rarely have the maturity and desire to experience significant benefit from strength training. In my experience, most kids are ready to strength train by their middle-school years, with some cases being the end of the elementary-school years. I strongly recommend working with a qualified strength coach no matter how early or late a child starts lifting.
2. Movement Capability
Too often, I see parents enrolling their children in CrossFit-style classes that have them performing a high volume of barbell squats, box jumps and deadlifts. Nothing against CrossFit, as there are some stellar coaches out there, but if a child has not mastered these movements, form will inevitably wane as the amount of volume and fatigue increases.
How does your kid move? Put simply, can they squat, hinge, pull, push and plank with good form? When they can do the basic “movement skills for life,” they can handle movement progressions easier and do better at activity and sport for several reasons:
• kids master spatial awareness;
• kids improve balance;
• kids increase core stability;
• kids improve hip mobility;
• kids improve posture;
• kids improve upper and lower body strength.
3. Mental Readiness
It is key to not force strength and conditioning on youth athletes. If they wait a few years until they turn 13, instead of starting at 10, I promise they will not fall behind forever. More often than not, parents see other kids training with fervor and intensity, and feel that if their child is not doing the same, this will ruin their child’s chances of going professional.
Your child will develop nicely even if they wait a little longer to join their friends. It’s really all about the approach and focus they bring when they do start training.
So what do you do if they are not ready to get into the gym? There are plenty of ways to help them continue their physical development that have nothing to do with sets and reps. Here are several solutions:
• take them to the playground to climb monkey bars (upper-body strength);
• take them to the park to climb trees (upper-body strength);
• play pick-up sports with them (variety of movements and free play);
• tone down the use of video games (generally means more physical activity).
Funny enough, if kids went outside more, they would already be “ahead” in their athletic development, since free play exposes children to a variety of basic motor skills and feats of strength.
Also, remember that kids should fall in love with training, so the mental piece is one of the most paramount. After all, we want to instill good habits in them for a lifetime, especially when it comes to being physically active and healthy beyond organized sports. If you force them to get inside the train early and they truly don’t feel like being there, you risk turning them off it forever.
Mark “Coach Rozy” Roozen is owner/director of Coach Rozy Performance - Powered by AVERA Sports Yankton. He can be reached at 817-219-2811, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find more information at www.coachrozy.com about training programs, bootcamps and athletic & sport development