Strength Training for Youth Athletes

There is a common notion that resistance training in youth athletes can cause negative effects on both the development and maturity of children. In truth, many parents believe that resistance training will stunt the growth of their child if they initiate weight lifting at too young of an age. However, we know that strength training and weight lifting can enhance performance during athletic competition. We want our children to perform as well as possible in their sport, and resistance training will help them to get an advantage. Thus there is an inherent dilemma that occurs which begs the question, “At what age is it appropriate to allow my child to start lifting?”

The Truth About Strenght Training for Young Athletes

The National Strength and Conditioning Association released a position statement on this topic in 2009 outlining the research in order to dispel any misconceptions about strength training in youth athletes. For example, Faigenbaum et al wrote in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, that the current position of NSCA is that a properly designed and supervised resistance training program:

  • Is relatively safe for youth
  • Enhances muscular strength and power of youth
  • Improves the cardiovascular risk profile of youth
  • Improve motor skill performance as well as contribute to enhanced sports performance of youth
  • Increases a young athlete’s resistance to sports-related injuries
  • Can Help improve the psychosocial well-being of youth
  • Can help promote and develop exercise habits during childhood and adolescence
Strength training for youth athletic development symmetry pt miami

Most strength gains made during childhood are due to neural changes rather than an increase in muscle size. Increased muscle size will occur with adolescent athletes due to hormonal changes that occur during puberty. Resistance training programs that include plyometrics and weight training can also help to improve strength, coordination, motor unit activation, movement pattern development, and bone density, which will help to decrease the risk of sports-related injuries. Faigenbaum et al state, “adolescent weight lifters typically display increased bone density and bone mineral content than their age-matched controls”. To clarify, This suggests that weight lifting does not have a negative impact on skeletal growth and actually enhances bone maturation. 

There is no evidence to suggest that weight training will stunt the growth or maturation during childhood or adolescence. 

Ways to Decrease Risk of Injury

  • Qualified supervision
  • Appropriate program design
  • Sensible progression
  • Safe training equipment
  • Limiting the number of heavy lifts
  • Allowing adequate recovery between sessions
  • Listening to questions/concerns
Youth strength training symmetry pt miami

Weight training does carry some risk of injury, but athletes are in no greater risk of injury than with any other physical activity they are participating in. It is recommended that an athlete may begin resistance training exercises once they have reached the age to initiate participation in sports. This is generally around ages 6-8 years old. Injuries that typically occur during weight training, at any age, can be attributed to aggressive load progression and poor technique. Therefore, proper supervision is crucial to safe and effective exercise progressions. 

long-term athletic development model symmetry pt miami

Long-Term Athletic Development Model

The Long-Term Athletic Development Model (LTAD) is a great way to organize development into phases throughout the lifespan. Accordingly, It does a great job of maintaining the fun in physical activity, preventing overtraining/burnout, and promoting proper development of skills to improve performance. I am partial to this model because it also encourages free/unstructured play as well as participation as a multiple sports to enhance skill development. We will discuss early sport specialization at a later date, but to keep it simple, I am a big fan of kids that play multiple sports to enhance skill development and athleticism. Additionally, below are the stages of the LTAD Model according to the NSCA:

LTAD Model Stages

Stage 1: Active Start (Ages 0-6)

  • 60+ minutes of physical activity per day
  • Play with other youth
  • Learn proper essential movement skills such as running, jumping, and exploring

Stage 2: Fundamentals (Males Ages 6-9; Females Ages 6-8)

  • Participation in Physical Education classes at school
  • Participation in multiple sports to learn motor skills such as running, jumping, kicking, throwing
  • Encourage activities that challenge speed, coordination, and also balance
  • Encourage free play and schoolyard games such as tag with other kids to focus improve general movement literacy 

Stage 3: Learn to Train (Males Ages 9-12; Females Ages 8-11)

  • Play multiple (3+) sports throughout the year
  • 2-3 practices per game played
  • Still encouraged to participate in low to moderate structured play
  • Initiate bodyweight resistance training: pushups, pullups, squats, crunches, planks, lunges, etc.
  • Use of medicine or stability balls is also encouraged during this stage

Stage 4: Train to Train (Males Ages 12-16; Females Ages 11-15)

  • Main focus is on the development of technical skills
  • Secondary focus is on performance outcomes
  • Moderate structure of physical activity
  • May scale down to two sports throughout the year
  • Increased number of games and decreased time spent during practice
  • May begin periodized training programInitial aerobic training phase, but focus is still on speed, strength, and skill attributes

Stage 5: Train to Compete (Males Ages 16-23; Females Ages 15-21)

  • Highly structured physical activity
  • Increased specialization into 1-2 sports
  • High levels of competition encouraged during training and practice to prepare for high competition during games
  • Periodized strength training program in order to peak for the season

Stage 6: Train to Win (Males Ages 19+; Females Ages 18+)

  • Typically competing at the highest levels of competition
  • Highly dedicated
  • Very skilled
  • Working with both specialized and technical coaches
  • Periodized training is highly specific to maximize training, recovering, tapering, and peaking in order to enhance performance

Stage 7: Active for Life (All Ages)

  • Maintain lifelong sports/physical activity participation
  • Participate in physical activities that you enjoy
  • Involvement in less intense recreational activities such as golf
  • Avoid a sedentary lifestyle; maintain fitness
  • Volunteer, coach, or play in sports-related recreational activities


Despite the common misconception that resistance training can have negative effects if initiated too young, there is strong evidence that it has many beneficial results in the long-term. Firstly, we want to promote proper movement literacy throughout childhood to improve coordination and improve resiliency against injury. Less-structured free play and multi-sport (3+) participation is strongly encouraged throughout childhood (ages 6-9) in order to develop a well-rounded athletic base. However, generalized bodyweight exercises such as squats, pushups, lunges, and jumps/hops are appropriate to begin as an adjunct to enhance performance, coordination, and movement efficiency.

In essence, resistance training can be gradually progressed into adolescence. Factors such as load intensity, complexity of exercises, and structure/technicality increase as appropriate throughout the development of the athlete. The LTAD model also helps to answer questions about the progression of sport participation and resistance training to promote optimal athletic development. Basically, the benefits of resistance training in youth athletes goes well beyond solely performance-based outcomes. It also helps to improve bone density, cardiovascular health, and body composition throughout the lifespan. Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts on resistance training for youth athletes. 

  1. Faigenbaum AD, Kraemer WJ, Blimkie CJ, et al. Youth resistance training: updated position statement paper from the national strength and conditioning association. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(5 Suppl):S60-79.
  2. Williams CE. Youth Performance and Fitness – Strength and Conditioning Information for Parents. NSCA Personal Training Quarterly Mar 2013; 2:3. 10 Jun 2020