Why Every Youth Athlete Needs Strength Training

If you’ve got a young athlete, they need to be strength training.

Not to be a starter, or get a scholarship, or they have to be good at what they do— their motivation should drive those desires.

But just as you promote healthy food choices, and safe equipment options, a strength program is necessary for a youth athlete’s safety and longevity as an active person.

For the Multi-Directional Athlete

For multi-directional sports, the knee joint is most at risk.  There are an estimated 350,000 ACL surgeries occurring in the US each year that impact cutting sports like soccer and basketball the most.  These are usually not caused by bone-crunching hits either. The majority of ACL tears (70-84%) are non-contact incidents and happen approximately 4x more often among girls (ref). At the age of 13, the risk of injury starts increasing.

A torn ACL means a season-ending surgery with at least a 6-month rehab.  Along with this, roughly 8 out of 10 who sustain an ACL tear will develop knee arthritis later in life, and 20% will suffer reinjury within two years (ref).

There are suspected risk factors that cannot change.  Things like hip angle, ligament thickness, and hormonal factors, are suspected to increase the risk of ACL tears.  The research also shows a prevention program can significantly reduce the risk of ACL tears.  One study showed a 52% and 82% in female and male athletes respectively.  It’s also the best way to reduce the chances of developing osteoarthritis in life (ref).

Building strength of the legs, glutes, and core to maintain athletic positions helps provide stability for the body.  This is essential for performance and optimizes biomechanics to reduce the stress placed on connective tissues like the ACL.

For the Young Thrower

The young thrower is clearly at greatest risk for shoulder and arm injuries.  The best estimates show that 5% of youth pitchers will either need elbow or shoulder surgery or quit due to injury, within 10 years of starting to play (ref).

Which is not new news, especially if you are within the sport of baseball.

The issue of arm injuries is a growing hot topic, with many believes about what puts players at risk.

Overuse is the primary cause of these arm issues, but arm strength also holds significant weight as well (ref).

Studies show that rotator cuff weakness is an important indicator of the risk of injury. There are also considerations regarding biomechanics and fatigue that a strength program can help mitigate (ref).

Youth Strength Training

We’ve talked about this in previous articles: When Should Kids Lift Weights

When your kids get the competitive drive, usually indicated by if they care whether they win or lose, it’s time to introduce strength training. This is usually around age 8—an important time for establishing movement patterns.

When starting out, make it fun by integrating different games into their training, such as throwing med balls, sled push races, or obstacle courses.  This keeps it entertaining, creates some motivation without being too overbearing.

The goal is to build overall athleticism and teach them to exert force in different planes of motion.  As a young athlete gets more sport specific, introduce preventative measures for those specific activities.

For example, the multi-directional athlete would benefit most from strengthening the hips and posterior chain, and throwers should focus on the strength of their rotator cuff.

In conclusion, strength training isn’t bad for kids and not only for overbearing dads pushing their kids to make varsity.  A proper youth strength training program will prepare youth athletes for the demands of competition while preventing sports-related injuries that could detour their lives in significant ways.