Five Ways to Safely Strength Train Young Athletes

Before taking a young athlete to the local gym or weight room, it’s important to learn what is appropriate for each athlete. Depending on your child’s stage of puberty, some strength training can harm growing bones, muscles or the nervous system.

Here are five tips for safe training for young athletes:

1) Consult a professional who knows about growing children. Ask if they offer services like Functional Movement Screens, Selective Functional Movement Assessments or body composition measures.

2) Master form before adding weight to exercises. A young athlete needs cues from a mirror and the supervising adult to monitor and improve form during exercise. Adding weight to poor form during an exercise can increase the risk for injury at any age. A growing body is more sensitive to those stresses.

3) Learn the difference between pain and muscle fatigue. Most children are not familiar with the feeling of muscle fatigue. Therefore, they may need your help describing how they feel after exercise. Burning, tired and weak feelings are common after exercise. Pinching, stabbing and sharp sensations are concerning and may be a sign of an injury that needs evaluation.

4) Understand that muscle size may not always increase with strength training . Young athletes do not have the hormones that help a muscle grow in size . However, training is still beneficial without this obvious change.

5) Model healthy behaviors for your athlete. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program can improve the well-being of youth. Additionally, it can promote healthy exercise habits that last into adulthood.

Laura Saleem, PT, MPT, OCS, is a sports physical therapist at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Plano. She is dedicated to helping young and growing athletes return to sports safely after an injury. Saleem has a clinical interest in core stability integration into all rehabilitation and injury prevention education programs.

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