When your high school athlete heads back to school this month, they'll likely head back to the weight room as well.
We receive many questions related to this topic, so we asked our PT department head, Kevin McHorse, PT, SCS, MSPT, Cert. MDT and Board Certified Specialist in Sports Physical Therapy, to address the risks and rewards of adolescent weight training.
"After more than 20 years of taking care of young athletes I've treated many injuries resulting from Middle and High School weight training. From overuse injuries in the knees, to back injuries from over lifting, to shoulder dislocations, they come in all ages and severities.
Of course, I see injuries from everything young athletes do, so this alone does not necessarily make the school weight room a bad or unsafe place. There are certainly benefits to strength training in schools as plenty of research shows that proper weight training is a great way to decrease injuries and improve performance in young athletes. They must be strong enough to tolerate the demands of their chosen sport.
The unique thing about weight room injuries is that they are almost completely preventable, which means the weight room does not have to be a high risk environment with proper attention to detail.
As a parent, what can you do to help keep your young athlete safe in the weight room while still benefiting from the improved performance and injury prevention it can provide?
Body Weight Exercises
First, make sure your child is building a strong foundation through body weight exercises to work the legs, core, and upper body, prior to hitting 7th-9th grade when most schools add weight room activities.
Work with a Trainer
Second, if it's financially feasible, I believe it is a good investment to hire a personal trainer (one who works with adolescents regularly) just for a few sessions to learn proper form for the major lifts.
In a one-on-one situation with someone knowledgeable, your child will learn how to protect themselves by using proper form and gain confidence in the lifts they are doing. A trainer will also discuss proper lifting philosophy, such as working opposing muscle groups, to help your child train more safely.
If finances are a concern, you could speak with your coach or athletic director about bringing a trainer in to work with the kids individually on proper form. You could also subsidize the cost by doing group training with a few other student athletes.
Proper Warm-up + Cool-down
Strength training sessions should begin with five to 10 minutes of dynamic activity, such as jogging in place or jumping rope. Aerobic activity warms the muscles and prepares them for more vigorous activity. After working out, it's also a good idea to do some gentle stretching.
Don't Overdo It
Kids can safely lift weights, as long as it's light enough for their stage in development. In most cases younger kids should work with 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions with focus on form.
As they get older and stronger, working in higher weights with lower reps such as 4 to 5 sets of 6 to 8 will help build strength faster. Resistance doesn't have to come from weights if they are not available at home. Resistance tubing and body-weight exercises, such as pushups and pull-ups, are other effective options to start building strength early.
Rest in Between Workouts
Rest is just as important in building muscle as the activity itself. Make sure your athlete rests at least one full day between exercising specific muscle groups.
We hope this has offered some practical advice to keep your athlete safe in the weight room. While weight training injuries at school are more common than we would like, they are preventable if we equip young athletes with the tools to lift properly and keep themselves safe when they enter this new environment.
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