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Strength Training for the youth athlete

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

There are many opinions when it comes to the training of the youth athlete and its place. For many years it was stated amongst parents and sport coaches that strength training at a young age can stunt an athletes growth. One of the reasons behind this is due to the fact that injuries to younger athletes growth plates can stunt growth though these injuries rarely are because of strength training, often occurring from game play much rather than strength training. However this has been shown to be false as Malina (2006) states a properly ran program with regards to exercise selection and athlete to coach ratio can reduce the risk of injury in youth athletes . While youth sports offer a great avenue for athletes to develop their sports skills and overall fitness there are some negatives. Athletes now are developing overuse injuries at a much higher rate than in years past due to the addition of club teams and travel teams all in addition to school based athletic programs. This is in part due to the specialization trend we see being pushed by parents throughout youth sports. According to Bell (2018), Athletes who specialize in one sport at an early age are 81% more likely to suffer an overuse injury than athletes who play a wide variety of sports. As strength and conditioning professionals there's nothing we can really do to sway parents decision making process with regards to their child specializing or not specializing but we can show them and educate them on how proper strength training programs can reduce these increased risk of injury however we have to be smart about how we program in order to do so. For example if a parent hires me to work with an athlete that specializes in volleyball year round then it wouldn't be in that athletes best interest to do a large amount of plyometric training simply because they are getting that stimulus throughout the year in practice and the playing of games. Vilamitjana (2008), points out that volleyball athletes average over 1 jump per minute of game play, add this up in terms of playing year round essentially and that is a lot of ground contacts. However if the athlete were to show some landing or jumping mechanics issues in her initial screening then we could work this in a low impact manner through proper training and exercise selection. When selecting exercises for the youth athlete its important to build a foundational base of strength early on rather than getting extremely sport specific at a young age with regards to special exercises. A variety of presses, pulls, weighted carries, hinge based movements, dynamic movement and bilateral/unilateral squat variations can go a long way in developing athletes who are at a younger age. Many parents see the latest workouts and trends that pro athletes are following but its important that parents understand that these athletes already possess a solid strength base for the most part so they can add new variations to their training. If you simply start youth athletes on advanced training modalities then you are skipping a critical step in the long term athletic development process. According to Granacher (2016), free weight and barbell exercises in multiple planes has been show to be the best way to develop muscular strength. Below is a sample list of each category that are good movements to include within a training program for the youth athlete. When incorporating the dynamic based movements the key is to keep the movements fast paced and power based instead of strength based and slow. I generally program reps of 2-3 for sets of 3-5. When training the youth athlete its important first and foremost to build a solid foundational strength base and build solid movement patterns. The strength base shouldnt be driven and reflected by 1RM numbers but rather by quality movement and the athlete slowly increasing the ability to add load over time.



DB Bench

DB Incline Bench

Overhead press (DB and Barbell)

Lunged Single Arm OHP


Bent over row

Chin up

Pull up

Inverted Pull up

Chest supported row

Band pull aparts


Overhead Medball Toss

DB Snatch

Clean Pull

Barbell Squat jump

Trap Bar jump

Clean Pull


KB Swing

Trap Bar DL

Skater Squat

Weighted Carries

Farmers Walk

Single Arm Farmers Walk

Single Arm OH Carry

Snatch Grip OH Carry

Bilateral/Unilateral Squat

Front Squat

Back Squat

Lateral Lunge

Elevated Pistol Squat

Barbell Reverse Lunge

RFE Split Squat

Split Squat


Granacher, U., Lesinski, M., Büsch, D., Muehlbauer, T., Prieske, O., Puta, C., Gollhofer, A., & Behm, D. G. (2016). Effects of Resistance Training in Youth Athletes on Muscular Fitness and Athletic Performance: A Conceptual Model for Long-Term Athlete Development. Frontiers in physiology, 7, 164.

Malina R. M. (2006). Weight training in youth-growth, maturation, and safety: an evidence-based review. Clinical journal of sport medicine : official journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, 16(6), 478–487.

Sport Specialization and Risk of Overuse Injuries: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis

David R. Bell, Eric G. Post, Kevin Biese, Curtis Bay, Tamara Valovich McLeod

Pediatrics Sep 2018, 142 (3) e20180657; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2018-0657

Vilamitjana, Javier J.; Soler, Diego; Barrial, Juan M.; De Oca, Marcos Montes; Rodriguez, Facundo; Del Grecco, Pablo Jumping Profile of Elite Volleyball Male Players by Field Positions during a Competitive Season, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: May 2008 - Volume 40 - Issue 5 - p S383 doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000322635.00958.95

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