Is Strength Training Bad for Youth?

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Is Strength Training Bad for Youth

Anyone that follows me knows that I coach a lot of youth athletes. I have coached youth as young as 7-years-old. I have one of the strongest 12-year-olds in the country right now, Morgan McCullough. Every time I post one of his videos, I get an Internet coach telling me that weight training will stunt the growth of a child, or that weight training is bad for children.


It baffles me that this mindset is still lurking about. In “The Essentials of Strength and Conditioning Volume 3” written by the National Strength and Conditioning Association they address this topic with several case studies. As long as weight training is introduced safely and correctly, there is proof that weight training actually aids in the growth process by increasing levels of testosterone and human growth hormone. Both of these hormones play a vital role to growth and development of an adolescent.

Let’s take science out of it for just a second, and let’s use our common sense. The force absorbed from jumping off a fence or a tackle in peewee football is quite a bit larger than squatting 80lbs. Why does no one freak out about peewee football? Look I was a college football player. I love football, but having 7 and 8 year-olds running around crushing each other is way harder on the spine than controlled weight training.

What about soccer? Have you ever been to a girl’s soccer match? Are you telling me that a kettlebell squat is detrimental to a child, but little girls smashing each other on a soccer field is ok? Come on think about it! Little kids are forever jumping around and lifting odd sized rocks. Both of these activities are more dangerous than the controlled environment of a weight room.


Here’s the thing to consider. If weight training is done properly, it is safe. If it is performed incorrectly, then it is dangerous at any age. People can hurt their backs, shoulders, and knees if movements are performed incorrectly. However, athletes can hurt their backs, shoulders, and knees playing any sport.

Weightlifting as a sport has been found to produce way less injuries than most all sports. In a frequently cited study, weightlifting was found to produce injuries .0017 per 100,000 hour of participation as compared to track and field .570. Are you starting to see the irony of the crazy statements “weightlifting will hurt you”?

Here are some keys:

1. Start the kids out with body weight movements and pvc pipes. I teach my kids a perfect bodyweight squat before ever loading them. I teach overhead squats, front squats, snatches, cleans and jerks with a pvc pipe before ever putting a bar in a child’s hand. I perfect every stage before moving on.

2. General preparation is the ground base. The key is forming a proper base of pull-ups, push-ups, kettlebell squats, rows, presses, and pulls before moving on to the more advanced movements of the snatch and clean & jerk. If they can’t squat or overhead squat, there is no point on moving forwards.

3. For kids 8-11, the load on the bar isn’t the biggest concern. The biggest concern is the amount of reps. I suggest keeping the weight at a perceived 60-75% of their 1RM and performing multiple sets of 5-10 reps. The key is teaching the child the proper movement pattern. As they get better at the movement, they will automatically get stronger from becoming for efficient.

4. For kids 12 and up, things become more relevant. It a child performs movements with perfect form, and then they can progress upwards. A child squatting 300+ pounds with perfect form is safer than a child squatting 100lb incorrectly. Things are simply relevant to the child, their genetics, and their abilities. I love it when people tell me “200lb is ok, but 300lb is bad”. Why? Based on what?

5. If weightlifting movements are performed correctly and safely, then weight training can very well lead to increased growth hormone levels and testosterone levels. This can actually aid the growth process.

I am excited to work on a book about this very topic that I will release at the end of the year. I am excited to dive a little deeper into the subject, so that I can clear up any and all old wise tales once and for all. When it is complete, I will just site my book every time that an Internet coach stalks one of my posts. Every time that I post a video of one of my younger lifters, I get the most outrageous comments. One Internet coach said, “200lb is ok, but 300lb is too much”. What? Why? For who? Basically they are saying that 300lb for an athlete weighing 190lb is too much, but 200lb for an athlete weighing 100lb is ok?

Folks it is all relevant. Let me leave you with this. If an athlete is stable and performs the movement properly, then the movement is safe. If the athlete is unstable and performs the movement incorrectly, then the movement is dangerous no matter the age. For all of you Internet coaches out there, before you make a comment, think about it for an hour or so. Try to be logical and then maybe make a comment, but avoid absolutes unless you are an expert in the field (an expert in your own mind is not the same thing).

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Remember on September 17th-18th we will be hosting the Mash Barbell Picnic” on the Farm. Weightlifting Day 1 and Powerlifting Day 2, but more importantly hanging out together the entire weekend. Check it out below:

The Mash Barbell Picnic

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