by Colby Schreckengost MS, BS, CPT, FMS
When it comes to middle school athletes, parents often ask, “Should my 12-year-old be lifting weights?”
For children participating in sports, organizations like The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend some form of strength training as young as six years old.
Think about it this way. Middle school generally hits during puberty – when the body is growing and changing. It’s also the time when many coaches are pushing kids to participate in sports year-round, practice longer and more frequently, and attend every game, tournament and camp there is. While I’d suggest you’re looking at burn-out at that pace, more importantly, you’re looking at the risk of significant injury.
Here’s why strength training is important, especially for middle schoolers:
- Strengthens the bones, ligaments, and tendons — essentially protecting athletes from the rigors of their sport!
- Increases overall muscle strength and local muscle endurance
- Improves bone mineral density
- Improves body composition
- Improves motor skills
Strength training doesn’t necessarily mean lifting weights. Middle school aged kids (and younger) first need to be able to handle their own bodyweight whether that is sprinting, decelerating, jumping, landing, squatting, or simply getting up off the ground. There are a ton of great exercises that are perfect for making middle school athletes stronger that require nothing more than their own bodyweight.
But, 12-14-year-olds are fast approaching their high school years, which also makes this the best age to introduce weights, learn how to handle equipment like dumbbells, as well as learn proper technique for squatting, pressing, rowing and push-ups. It’s also an ideal to time to reinforce proper movement skills like jumping, landing sprinting and lateral shuffling.
So, how do you go about introducing your child to strength training?
First and foremost, a professional trainer certified in strength training should supervise any type of strength training. I caution parents to do their research – way too many “certifications” are easy to acquire with a small amount of cash and a few hours on the Internet. Look for trainers that have a CSCS (Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist), Certified Functional Strength Coach (CFSC) or a 4-year degree in kinesiology or exercise science and solid training experience. Further, consider that while your child might have the best coach in the world for their sport, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily qualified to advise on strength & conditioning any more than I am qualified to coach soccer or lacrosse skills.
Find a facility that has the proper equipment and space for athletes to train. They also need enough equipment so that the athlete doesn’t spend their time standing around waiting their turn. That’s one issue we hear a lot from kids trying to use a school or the local gym weight room.
Be sure the athletes are trained at the right level and with their age group. We offer Levels 1-4 and it has nothing to do with skill or ability per se – it’s based on age and body development. Trust me, you don’t want your 8-year-old in the same program as a 13-year-old.
At Next Level, we have been training middle-school athletes for over 17 years. We understand how to regress exercises for a deconditioned athlete or a beginner. But we also understand how to safely progress an athlete that is ready to be pushed!
Strength, performance, and conditioning are all learned skills and should be taught by professional coaches. We are Next Level and that’s what we do!Learn More about our Athlete & Youth Programs