Youth Strength and Conditioning: Why and How

Youth strength and conditioning can be a conflicting topic.

Some people think it is completely unnecessary, and even dangerous. Others think that they should start training in the gym as early as possible.

But, as you might expect, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

By Coach Hunter Bennett

Youth Strength and Conditioning

Firstly, why might youth strength and conditioning be a good thing?

From a pure health perspective, kids should be aiming for at least an hour of exercise per day. Within this, they should be performing some sort of exercise that strengthens muscle and bone three times per week (this includes high impact sport, as well as more traditional weight training).

But very few kids are getting anywhere near this. Which means formalised training can be a good way to increase exercise and improve health.

Moreover, performing general strength and conditioning exercise can improve coordination, resiliency, balance, and strength. This can protect them from injuries and improve their sport performance (if that’s important to them).

Lastly, having a positive strength and conditioning experience can help foster a love for exercise. This can go a long way in helping your kids become active throughout their lifetime, which is integral for health as an adult.

Is strength training safe for my kids?

A common reservation people have about youth strength and conditioning is they believe it to be dangerous.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Before anything else, weight training has been shown to have much lower injury rates than almost any other sport.

More importantly, the physical stress that kids experience in the gym doing squats, lunges, and deadlifts, pale in comparison to the stress they experience jumping, running, tacking, and wrestling.

With this in mind, we can make the argument that youth strength and conditioning is extremely safe.

And it becomes even safer if you do it properly…

What should youth strength and conditioning contain?

What should youth strength and conditioning involve?

Well, it depends.

Most recommendations are based around biological age, whereby you start with basic body weight exercises in childhood, and gradually include free weight exercises as they get older.

Although this is a solid recommendation, it does leave a lot open to interpretation.

Which is why I wanted to provide a little more nuance to the topic.

Strength and conditioning for children:

For children aged younger than 12 years, your focus should be on two main things:

  1. Improve coordination and movement capabilities
  2. Foster a love for exercise

This means most of your training should be comprised of bodyweight exercises with minimal external load. Moreover, adding in things like sprints, jumps, and rapid changes of direction will also be of benefit.

Lastly, integrating some level of play into training is a great way to make it fun while increasing effort through competition.

Strength and conditioning for adolescents:

Between the ages of 12 and 15 most training should look like the above, with the addition of some external load if that is something they are interested in.

This might mean starting to introduce loaded squats, deadlifts, presses, and rows.

Additionally, this is a time of life when sport participation tends to decline, making formal exercise more important. As a result, increasing intensity and layering in some aerobic conditioning (game based if possible) can help offset some of these changes.

Read more about correct lifting technique HERE

Strength and conditioning for young adults:

Lastly, we have young adults.

If your kids are aged 15 and above, and have a robust training history, they should be able to do pretty much anything. This means adding load, trying different exercise variations, and pushing things a little harder if they want to.

You might also find that at this age specific training goals might emerge.

This could be related to sport performance, or something as simple as getting stronger. Whatever it is, feel free to make it a priority – because this can again foster continued participation.

Youth Strength and Conditioning: Final points

Strength and conditioning for kids is not something to be fearful of – in fact, if implemented correctly, it can improve health, athletic performance, and set them up in a big way moving forward.

It all comes down to progressing them slowly and finding ways to make it fun.

And if you want to know more about managing the intensity of training, we recommend checking out our articleHow to use RPE to increase strength.

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