Young Athletes in the Weight Room… Dangerous or Not?

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Question: What is the best age to start training? Should they wait until they are in high school? My son is in middle school and has been lifting weights at home. Recently he began complaining about sore knees and I thought he may be too young to lift.
Answer: If your son has sore knees it could be one of two things: poor or incorrect lifting form or he is growing. If he continues to complain, then take him to see a doctor. Don’t wait until the issue becomes chronic. Until then, elevate his knees and ice them down for 12 minutes. About 30 to 40 minutes later, repeat the ice for another 12 minutes. Do this as much as needed. During the time that they are sore, avoid squats or lunges. These load the knees with more stress and your first task is to avoid further inflammation. If the form has been good, then he may be in a growth period which is very common in middle school age boys and girls.
We typically begin weights as young as 5th or 6th grade. It’s about this time that the kids are playing rec ball and want to be prepared for the opportunity to play in middle school ball which they can start in the 7th grade. At this age we teach them to properly perform the exercises and we stick to the basic multi-joint exercises. Good form and speed of movement are the most important things in the beginning. As they get older and begin puberty they will see more physical changes in muscle size and quick advances in strength. Avoid single rep maxes until they are required in high school. We prefer triple rep max weight especially with cleans and squats but we get them prepared for what is required in high school sports.
The most important point for young athletes in the weight room is to enforce proper form. Restrict the amount of weight being used until the exercises are performed properly by adding reps. Avoid single rep maximum weight on exercises until high school and even then, avoid single rep max weight on cleans and squats until necessary. Encourage stretching and increasing flexibility. The more flexible an athlete is the stronger that athlete will become and this has been proven repeatedly. Once a student has been lifting for a while we teach how to deal with pain during exercise and teach the difference between training pain and injury pain. Our first rule is to make sure the athletes are safe and avoid injury.
Keeping this outline in mind and keeping close supervision on the athlete will allow greater athletic development and greater performance on the field. Make the training fun and challenging. Encourage them and reward them for challenging themselves and see the results both in the sports they play and in the character and discipline it builds. Building and realizing athletic potential builds confidence in sports and in themselves.
God bless and keep training,
Daryl

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