The fact is that strength is a basic motor skill, which is an important precursor to other motor skills. To ignore strength development will only serve to limit the development of other key motor qualities such as speed, coordination and flexibility. Everything, regardless of the level of athlete, is related to a broad fitness and activity base. Someone completely sedentary will be more likely to not make good progress and get hurt than someone who has been very active. It is generally acknowledged that youth today are not as active and fit as previous generations. They also tend to specialize in specific sports earlier; this has the effect of narrowing their range of motor skills as well as limiting their ultimate development in their chosen sport. The key is to do what is natural and playful first. If you watch children play in their natural environment they perform amazing feats of strength relative to their bodyweight. They push, pull, jump and throw with ease. If the object is too heavy they leave it alone. Nobody has to tell them it’s too heavy! No one has to instruct on technique, they put their body into positions that are natural to achieve the desired outcome.
We must really rethink how we look at strength, how we characterize it. There is no doubt that the growing and developing athlete should strength train. Over the years the benefits that have I have seen far outweigh any possible negatives. As I consider the various pros and cons I am increasingly aware that it is more a controversy regarding methodology and methods than whether or not the growing athlete should strength train. The most common questions are: When should they begin? How should they begin? How much should they do? How should they progress? These are all legitimate questions that I will answer in the course of this article.
Some of the controversy results from unclear definition and confusion of terms. Strength training and weight training are not synonymous. Weight training is part of strength training (resistance training). Strength training is an umbrella term that encompasses a spectrum of resistance modes from bodyweight gravitational loading on through to traditional weight training and Olympic weight lifting. All the modes are appropriate if utilized properly and are carefully taught as part of a progression over the course of the growing athletes development. The key to all of this is to start where you can succeed with bodyweight gravitational loading and then to progressively add resistance as the growing athlete adapts to the stimulus of the current mode of strength training.
There are definite gender differences in regard to the need, response and adaptation to strength training. The growing female athlete is physically more mature than the male athlete at the same chronological age. A good rule of thumb is to consider the female two years advanced in physical development over her male counterpoint at the same age. The percentage of muscle mass is lower in women than in men 30 –35% for the female to 42 – 47% for the male. Generally 11 –13 for girls and 13 – 15 for boys are considered the optimum ages to begin formal training. This usually coincides with puberty where the production of anabolic hormones is considerably increased. The female must strength train earlier and keep the strength train threaded throughout the training year because of the differences in muscle mass and testosterone levels.
It is also important to consider motivation, emotional maturity, and cognitive development. These are essential qualities in taking instruction and following directions and the ability to follow a set prescribed program.
Beware of one-sided training biased toward heavy lifting. This can have a negative effect as it takes the strength component out of context. The growing athlete can lift heavy after puberty. I tend toward to side of conservatism regarding heavy lifting before puberty. I know that the Bulgarian lifters are cited as example of this approach, but what we now know of their drug biases in their programs. We must take this information with a huge grain of salt. The growing athlete can begin to Olympic lifting as their chosen sport, but I still think a sound base of fitness and physical activity will allow the young athlete to reach a higher level of performance in their later peak athletic years.
Develop strength relative to the demands of the sport, the position or event in the sport and the qualities of the individual athlete. The goal is to think long term. Progressively develop a base of general strength progressing to maximal strength development in sports where overcoming external resistance is necessary