Last week I wrote a blog about the contributing factors in rise of arm injuries across amateur baseball. Injuries are complicated, and it's never just one thing that cause them. One of the contributing factors in the article was the lack of overall strength in athletes today due to the changes in active lifestyles of the last 25 years. Players today just aren't strong because opportunities to express strength doesn't happen today like it did in decades past.
Climbing trees, riding bikes, monkey bars, and other strength based gameplay has been replaced by recreational electronics. This isn't a complaint, it just is what it is.
"Should kids lift weights?" or some variation of this question is something I get asked often as a skill acquisition and player development coach. My simple answer is yes. It was that long ago that kids were not only playing in physically demanding ways but they were also working in physically demanding jobs.
As a matter of fact:
In the census of 1930, two million children aged 10-18 still worked and 700,000 were under the age of 15. Most worked in the agricultural sector during summer vacation (Feld, 4). Federal surveys said children worked twelve hour shifts on tobacco, beet and, cotton plantations, all over the country (Feld, 3). Link
Think about the demands of working on a farm. You're digging, throwing hay bales, lifting heavy things, carrying heavy things, or climbing on things day in and day out because you have to just to survive.
Kids don't have to do those things today, which is good in ways but not good in others (mostly strength).
Along with the ecological perspective of weight training for kids, more research is starting to support it as well.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that strength training, including weightlifting, can be safe and beneficial for children as young as 8 years old when done appropriately and under proper supervision.
A review of the literature published in the journal Pediatrics in 2016 found that strength training can increase muscular strength, endurance, and power in children and adolescents. The review also found that strength training does not seem to negatively affect growth, skeletal maturity, or cardiovascular health when appropriate guidelines are followed.
Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2014 found that a supervised 8-week resistance training program improved muscular strength and power in children aged 7 to 13 years old.
How Do I Get Started?
Back to my farming analogies. I tell people, "if the lifts looks like something you would perform working on a farm then it's probably ok to do."
In our youth academy we have three main "lifts" we perform 2 days a week.
Deadlift 3 sets of 5
Sled Push 20 yards down and back
Farmers Carries 20 yards down and back
Consistency is the real key. NEVER miss a workout, but if you do certainly never miss two in a row.
How We Set Up The Deadlift
We have the Rogue Jr. Bar and Rogue Rubber Bumper Plate set. With kids I really suggest going with a smaller bar that is skinnier and easier to handle.
Everyone starts out with just 10lbs on each side (42lbs total). It's light so that if their technique isn't the best they won't hurt themselves. Our goal is to progress 5 pounds every 3rd lift until they can get at least 1.5 times their body weight for 5 reps. This isn't an exact science just a general guideline
How We Set Up The Sled
We use the Rogue Slice Sled. This is a good sled because it's not to heavy for beginners and it allows up to both push and pull it.
It's really very simple. Load it with some weight and go. There really isn't much technique to coach. They will figure out how to make it move. Just don't go to heavy to early. You can always progressively add weight over time.
How We Set Up The Farmers Carry
We use the Powerblock Dumbbell Stack. There is no specific reason other than it's compact and allows us to have weight up to 50 lbs (we don't need that much yet.)
Typically we most kids we range from 15-25lbs in each hand carrying the dumbbells 20 yards each direction just making sure they don't drop them on their toes. That would be bad.
The rise in arm injuries across amateur baseball can be attributed to a combination of factors, including the lack of overall strength in athletes today due to changes in active lifestyles. The decline in physical activity has led to a lack of strength in today's players, which could be remedied through weightlifting and other strength-based exercises.
As a coach, it is recommended to use lifts that are similar to those performed while working on a farm and to progress gradually in weight and intensity. Overall, it is a good idea to take any opportunity for young people to express strength in any way. Be it in a fun game or by lifting weights. Consistency is key, and proper technique and safety guidelines must be followed to ensure that children can develop their strength safely and effectively.