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Is your child too young to participate in a weightlifting program? PART 1:

Is your child too young to participate in a weightlifting program? PART 1:

Thomas Howes, Athletic Development Coach & Senior Rehabilitation Specialist

Helix Sport + Spine Ballard

Through a decade of coaching in the health/wellness industry, one question seems to be constant. Is my child too young to participate in a weightlifting program?

In short, there are ways to appropriately challenge physical fitness AT ANY AGE, but the challenge MUST be specific and appropriate to the individual. Parents often worry about likelihood of injury, specifically to the epiphyseal growth plate of maturing bones. A 2009 research review (Faigenbaum et. al.) found that a majority of youth training injuries were a result of improper technique, hasty progression of load, and/or lack of qualified coaching supervision.

This checklist will help you;

  • Identify what type of training is appropriate for your child and their needs
  • Identify their ideal training setting/facility
  • Begin the process of finding the right coach

Part 1: The Basics

  • Identify your Child’s Goals
      • Your child’s goals should play a major role in deciding the coach, style of training, and facility you decide upon. Is your athlete looking to increase speed, maximize strength, assist with mental wellness, aiming for weight-loss? 
      • Is your child aiming to improve athletic performance? If so, what are the demands of their sport? Does the athlete have performance testing parameters they need to meet, if so, are you aware of which tests will be employed? Does your facility have the ability to create this sort of training environment?
  • What is the timeline prior to their start of their practice schedule and competitive season? How much time does the coach have to prep your athlete for their season? Ideally, a coach has AT LEAST 3 months for competitive preparation.
  • Physical Preparedness of your Child
    • Sedentary vs. Active Lifestyle: Programs should be modified to meet the individual. Throwing a sedentary child into a high-intensity training program is a great way to get your child hurt OR destroy their relationship with physical activity for the foreseeable future. 
    • Experience: Similarly, placing a highly-skilled athlete into a novice training setting will hinder development of skill, strength, speed, and mindset.
  • Communication Style and Social Tendencies
    • Introvert vs. Extrovert: Your child’s success may be contingent on their preferred communication style and innate personality. Yes, placing your shy and introverted child into a group setting MAY help them “break out of their shell”, it may also backfire and end up pushing the individual away from fitness and health due to negative self-talk, feelings of ineptitude, or feeling aloof from the group.
    • Behavioral Challenges: I had an athlete in a group setting who continuously talked back, would not follow directions, and combatively isolated himself. Two weeks into our program, I was ready to kick the athlete out, as he was presenting a safety hazard to himself and others. At this point, I was informed that he had Asperger's and social scenarios posed a significant challenge. His mother didn’t want to divulge this information in fear of her son being treated differently due to his diagnosis. While I understand (and support) her point of view, this information could have proved useful in my preparation for each session in regard to feedback tools and physical/environmental factors (location of athlete in relation to coach, what athletes are placed near the individual, volume of music, etc).
  • Hx of Injury 
  • Does the individual have any injuries that need to be addressed with the coach prior to initiation of the program?
      • Some injuries may rule-out specific styles of training. Example, it would be highly inappropriate to program Olympic lifting or high volume of overhead lifting for athletes recovering from back injuries.
      • Coach may need to address stability/range of motion in reference to this injury
      • Coach may need to modify program to match the individual’s capabilities
      • Coach can use this information to decide what level of force or type of exercise is appropriate for the athlete. 
  • Facility, Coaching, & Expectations
    • Setting: Would your child be more likely to succeed in a 1:1 or group setting? Does loud music and a high intensity environment affect their ability to concentrate? Does your child have friends that have similar goals and would be appropriate to pair with? Does your child have friends they should not be paired with due to inability to focus?
    • Coaching: Any coach can give you a “head in the trash can/can’t walk the next day” workout. Is your coach/trainer taking your goals into consideration when designing your child’s workout or simply trying to push you as hard as possible? 
      • Educational Background: Credentials are not everything, I have met plenty of coaches with numerous “qualifications” that don’t take their job or their clients seriously. That being said, certifications indicate that an individual is invested in their trade and has exposed themselves to a multitude of approaches to training. 
      • Specificity: A Pilates instructor will not likely help your athlete increase their 40 time, likewise I haven’t met a plethora of bodybuilding coaches who understand the importance of joint mobility. Does your coach have a background in your sport or desired goals?
    • What are the Facilities Rules/Expectations?: I employ a “2-strike” rule for my athletes in group training settings. Once we have gone over the basics of each lift, I communicate that I trust all athletes to respect the principles of progressive loading (don’t go too heavy too quickly). If I dictate that an athlete is excessively loading their exercises on two or more occasions within a session, they will be asked to leave. I am aiming to instill trust and autonomy to my athletes, but will not accept unnecessary injuries as a result of poor judgment.

    Your local Helix team is well connected in the Puget Sound fitness community and can likely provide you with referrals to gyms/coaches that match your needs. Stay tuned for Part Two, identifying specific safety guidelines and how to make sure training volume matches your child’s short and long-term goals!