The paradigm of the past said pre-pubescent children should not perform strength training due to the load, risk of injury, spinal compression and fears such as stunted growth or damaged joints. Even further back it was thought that strength training was not good for certain athletes as it would actually hinder their ability to be athletic and perform certain ranges of movement.
All of this can be true or false depending on how, what, when and why you are training. The difference today is the amount of research, development and practical knowledge we have gained in truly understanding biomechanics and the role they play in all stages of a child’s life. What we know now is that when Athletic Development training is done safely and age-appropriately, it can be extremely beneficial to children long term.
The Mayo Clinic, an authority in health research, has stated that kids should start age-appropriate strength and Athletic Development training as early as 7 or 8 years of age. (www.mayoclinic.org, Tween and Teen Health, January 2015, Strength Training) Beginning Pre-Pubescent Athletic Development training at these early ages will have a longer positive effect on a child than just playing sports. Why? Because not only is the child developing appropriately physically, but they are instilling habits and a positive association to training early on which will continue in their life, long after sports have ended.
If we think about the physical development of a toddler, we as parents are continuously stimulating their motor skills and physical activity to advance their neurological movements, hand-eye coordination, balance and physical strength. The mobile in their crib, their bouncing walker, climbing and jumping off obstacles, and banging on things, are all Central Nervous System (CNS) and physical developmental exercises.
Food for Thought: Jumping off a chair 18” high and landing with bent knees yields an impact of 1.3Gs to the body. Jumping off the same chair landing with locked knees yields an impact of 4.2Gs. (www.deusrescue.com, June 2011, Understanding Shock Load, part 2) Change that chair height to a swing, fence, roof, etc. and the results of improper technique become more apparent and dangerous.
The need for proper technique and training applies to running, stopping, changing directions, lifting weights and many other athletic movements that involve gravity, force, momentum and impact. With pre-pubescent athletic development, if a child is taught proper mechanical movements and has increased strength, they develop efficiency and with efficiency comes speed, agility and reduced traumatic impact.
So why do we lose sight of these activities as our children get to the next early stages of their lives? We become dependent on their day to day activities, recess, PE, sports and outdoor play to fulfill this need. Unfortunately, in this day and age kids are not getting enough activity. We must understand that sports and athletic development are two very different things with different demands, modalities and progressions.
We have reversed the process of development. Think about it, we have our kids play sports starting as young as 2 years old and as they reach a level that becomes more competitive or challenging, we then decide maybe training will be a good idea. Now we are faced with the reality that our child’s mechanics, strength and movement is poorly developed with terrible habits that need correction. That’s like sending soldiers to war and when they start getting their tail kicked we bring them back and train them.
It only makes sense that pre-pubescent athletic development occur when kids’ CNS is the most active, receptive and developmentally capable of instilling process. Understanding early child development accentuates the importance of training before, during and after sports to make training a staple in their lives. These early habits will properly prepare, develop and continue to advance their bodies physically, mentally and neurologically to adapt to the conditions they face.
Parents always say, we are too busy with sports to train. Unfortunately, it isn’t until their child is no longer able to compete at a desired level that they then make training a priority.
The reality is pre-pubescent athletic development and strength training should be viewed as the staple of safe, proper and effective long-term development. This includes several key factors such as:
- Establishing the importance, benefits and fun of training
- Building confidence and empowerment through healthy physical activity
- Taking advantage of the most crucial time of CNS and muscular development
- Mitigating the risk of injury due to weakness or improper movements
- Teaching proper neurological movement patterns instilling good athletic habits
- Improving athletic IQ for continued correct repetition
- Safely preparing the body to perform and develop most effectively
- Giving your child the greatest chance for athletic success
If we invest the time to properly teach, train and develop our children now, we are maximizing their chances of long-term physical, mental and developmental success. When puberty, competition and challenge comes into play, your child’s mind and body will be prepared.