How early should you start a youth strength & conditioning program?

For long term athletic development young athletes should start a structured strength & conditioning program early in their development.  The focus should begin with developing fundamental movement skills and over time (many years) taper down to emphasise more sport specific requirements, competition and success in competition.


The benefits to starting kids early are numerous and include increases in strength, overall health & wellness, reduced injury rates and improved sports performance. Sounds good to me! Research shows that resistance training/weightlifting is a relatively safe activity when compared to common sports such as Rugby, Soccer, Basketball and Athletics i.e. there are less injuries per participation hours.  Data also shows that less mature, weaker kids get hurt more often during other sports.

Increases in strength of up to 30-40% have been seen in kids following strength training. And don’t worry: your kid won’t turn into a mutant. Most of this increase is due to neural factors such as motor control and coordination rather than increases in muscle size, that comes at later stages of their development when testosterone and growth hormone start kicking in.

Then there is the age old myth of resistance training stunting growth. Which is exactly that – a myth. Simply put, there is no data that suggests this is the case. Just like adults and the elderly, youth resistance training will actually help to improve bone density.

Here’s a few key points to remember:


  • Technique is vital and should be the initial focus
  • Movement screens will be useful to highlight problem areas to address
  • Concentrate on basic multi-joint movements. Squats, Jumps (and landing), Presses and Rows
  • A gradual progression of volume and intensity should be used, however phases of lower intensity and skill integration can be helpful.
  • High repetitions and moderate load is most useful as it will help the athlete practice the movement.

ASCA Accredited Strength & Conditioning Coaches and ESSA Accredited Exercise Physiologists are the professionals to seek out when looking to introduce your youngster to strength & conditioning. They will have the appropriate knowledge and experience to implement suitable and safe training programs for young athletes.


Blog contributor bottom banner aj smith