I started lifting weights at 13 years of age, was it the right choice? The short answer, yes. But why? “Lifting weights stunts your grow”, how about the fact I’m 5” taller than my father and other male relatives. How about my new-found strength helped immensely in my athletic pursuits? How about all the injuries I’ve had were a result of playing the extremely physical sport of rugby union and not from weight lifting. How about learning the power of nutrition? How about learning the importance of working towards something, facing adversity, and pushing through to see life changing results. How about how learning the human body works changed the trajectory of my entire life… How ‘bout dat? But that’s just me and the reality is not every child will develop an affinity to training like I did. However, here are the facts and why you must be cautious with who is handling you or your child’s training.[/caption]
It must be said, the stages of physical development are vastly different for each individual however there are some simple principles that I will recommend.
Master the Body
If you can’t lift yourself, don’t bother lifting a weight. Master basic bodyweight movements, squats, pull ups, horizontal rows, planks (side and front), crunches, push-ups, these are all fundamentals and once you can comfortably perform these movements in their entirety then it’s time to hit the iron.
Protect the Joints
The cartilage within young joints are extremely fragile. Some areas that are still developing, are super soft and easily manipulated. It is crucial to begin most your weight training on pin machine weights. It’s not the most exciting way to lift but it’s controlled, and that’s the most important part. Lifting weights like dumbbells or barbells that have no set movement path can be dangerous, the joint must work overtime to stabilise and the stress can be overwhelming. A good substitute for machine chest press or rows is the smith machine. It fixes your movement path which means less stress on the joints.
That age-old phrase “lifting stunts your growth” stems from barbell squats and the pressure that is placed on the vertebrae. Placing load on the back of the neck and having that load transfer down the spine during movement is potentially disastrous to the developing cartilage and growth plates. There is no set period for this development, however most studies have suggested young athletes can begin squatting between the ages of 14-16 years. In the meantime, developing movements like the leg press, the bent over row and strengthening the core will benefit the teenage squatter.
Find a Good Trainer
I was lucky enough to have two powerful minds monitoring my training with safety and injury prevention as their main priority. The trick to finding a good trainer is to ask around, what qualifications do they have? Are they a good communicator? Do they have a plan? The trainer is moulding the metaphoric clay and if they do it wrong, the repercussions can be quite dangerous. You need a trainer who is up to date with current literature as researchers are constantly discovering new facts on this exact topic.
The growing athlete has several different stresses, academic load, training load, social stresses, family dramas, part time jobs and more. This is all the while a wild concoction of hormones are being pumped around their bodies. Understand the athletes’ needs, give them time off, let them sleep, help fuel them, get them to stretch, recover and ensure their load is being monitored. All critical elements for their performance, mental state and injury prevention.
No matter what the child’s athletic pursuits are, at a young age it is important they are introduced to some sort of exercise/movement routine.
Understanding that if they work at something, for hours on hours, through ups and downs, that they can achieve what they set out to, and shapes their entire outlook on life! They don’t have to be training 7 days a week, but by developing a positive attitude and routine around movement, you won’t be breeding athletes, you’ll be breeding go getters.
James Grigson is a strength and conditioning coach. Currently, a third-year sports science student at the University of Queensland, James’ primary focus is the strength and conditioning for the SportsMed Elite and Baseline products.