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BACK in the Game, SportSTRONG, Youth Development, Youth Strength & Conditioning, Youth Training
Strength training tips for youth athletes
March 29, 2019 | by Sarah Manson, Fortius Strength and Conditioning Coach

When is it safe for my youth athlete to start lifting weights? How often should they be strength training?

There are many questions surrounding strength training in young populations, and for good reason: it has been shown to positively impact youth sport performance.

When adding strength & conditioning to your youth athlete’s routine, there are many factors that need to be considered, to ensure your youth athlete is training safely, and at the right level for their age and sport.

The Canadian Long-Term Athlete Development and Youth Physical Development Models provide recommendations to train strength and fundamental movement patterns for youth athletes based on their maturational age, as assessed by the timing of the growth spurt.

In this article, we will summarize some of these recommendations to help answer some of these important questions.

1. TIMING

Strength training programs for youth should be based around the timing of the growth spurt.

Prior to an athlete’s growth spurt (typically ages 10-13 for females and 12-15 for males), the priority of strength & conditioning should be learning and refining general sport skills, including understanding basic rules, tactics and strategy in games that are skill-based. These are the building blocks of training, ensuring young athletes are developing good fundamental movement patterns.

At this stage, we focus on building these skills with body weight activities as the athletes are in an accelerated development of coordination and fine motor skills. By focusing on movement over strength, we can ensure the correct fundamental patterns are learned and refined prior to loading the movement.

At onset of peak height velocity, or the initiation of the growth spurt, most athletes have begun to specialize into the sport(s) of their choice. This is the optimal time for strength training adaptation as the body is undergoing large changes with the introduction of secondary sex characteristics, hormone development and hardening of growth plates.

For females, there are two windows of optimal adaptations, one at the start of the growth spurt and the second at the start of menstruation, due to the high level of hormones associated. For males, there is a single window at 12-18 months following their growth spurt. By utilizing these windows, the athletes’ responsiveness to specific training stimulus (ie. strength training or speed development) can be maximized.

It is important to remember that all adolescents physically mature at different rates, some as early as 9 and some as late as 17 years of age. Ultimately an individual’s maturation should dictate their involvement in loaded strength training.

2. FREQUENCY

In order to achieve age-appropriate gains in strength, training sessions should be 30 – 60 minutes in duration, 2 to 3 times per week. Strength training more than 4 times per week has no additional benefit and may increase the risk for an overuse injury in youth populations.

Sessions should be progressive and continue to add weight or repetitions as strength improves. It is also key to remember the 60/40 rule when it comes to training and competition: a youth athlete should spend 60% of their time training (including all on or off field training), and 40% of their time in competition.

3. COACHING

Fortius coach helping a youth athlete in a dead lift

Proper supervision by a certified strength and conditioning coach is strongly recommended for youth athletes that engage in strength training during these development years.

No more than a 1:10 coach-to-athlete ratio is recommended nationally; while at Fortius Sport and Health we operate on a 1:6 coach-to-athlete ratio. A structured and safe learning environment is critical for engagement and the development of proper technique.

4. MODE

A sportSTRONG youth athlete holding a plank with one arm and leg out straight

A certified strength & conditioning coach will also be able to recommend the best mode of training, dependent on maturation and sport-specific goals.

Strength training programs may include the use of free weights, weight machines, elastic tubing or an athlete’s own body weight. Training plans should begin with low-resistance exercise until proper technique is perfected.

When 8 to 15 repetitions can be performed; a resistance increase of 10% is recommended. Exercises should include all major muscle groups and go through the full range of motion.

YOUTH TRAINING AT FORTIUS

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The key take-away is, improving strength is a long-term process highly reliant on proper timing, technique and structure.

Fortius Sport & Health offers a 12-week, small-group strength & conditioning program called SportSTRONG, for athletes 11 – 16 years of age. This program is aimed at developing physical attributes that are fundamental to sport performance (i.e., speed, agility, strength and power).

Visit our website to learn more, or book a free consultation today, to see if SportSTRONG could be the right fit for your youth athlete(s).

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