Football season is just around the corner and if your son is playing, then you are may already know that strength not only helps him perform better as an athlete, it can also help prevent injuries.
The following excerpt is from my ebook, Football Mom’s Survival Guide. As a football parent, or a parent of any athlete, it’s important to know when it is safe to begin working out with weights.
Getting stronger and quicker is something that benefits an athlete in any sport, and this is especially true for football players. Time in the weight room is not usually an option if a player wishes to excel on the football field in the upper levels.
Studies also show that it can help in injury prevention. Researchers at the University of Florida concluded after studying football injuries at more than a dozen high schools that coaches who want to keep players in the game should keep their players in the weight room.
MaryBeth Horodyski, an assistant professor with UF’s department of exercise and sports sciences, cites a three-year study of athlete injuries showing that “players who follow a controlled strength-training program reduce their chances of suffering from severe injuries.” “Seventy-eight percent of severe injuries to the upper body struck non-lifting athletes, or those students who were not in a controlled weight-lifting program,” Horodyski says. “And non-lifting athletes accounted for 64 percent of those with severe injuries to the lower body.” “The take-home message for coaches is, they need to implement a well-structured strength-training program for their players throughout the entire season,” Horodyski says. “It won’t cut down on the total number of injuries, but time loss goes down drastically if the injuries are not severe.”
But what about before high school? When is it safe for your son to get serious in the weight room?
This took a little research on my part since I have always left the weight room instruction of our three kids to my husband coach. But in the process of research and picking my husband’s coaching brain, I learned some things.
First of all, it’s important to distinguish between weight lifting and strength training. Weight lifting emphasizes heavy weights, and maximizing lifts to build strength. Strength training uses low resistance and repetition to build strength and conditioning.
Weight Lifting Guidelines
In general, if your son wants to work in the weight room, he should stick to these guidelines:
- Kids as young as 7 or 8 years old can do strength-training activities, if they want. Exercises should be fun and include activities for the total body, using only body weight as resistance: jumping jacks, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and lunges. Encourage simple games that involve running, with starts, stops, relays, jumping, skipping, and throwing.
- By age 9 or 10, most children are physically ready to begin training with light external resistance. Keep the exercises simple and monitor how the child tolerates the stresses of training. Use resistance bands or very light weights.
- Many coaches and physical trainers suggest that kids should not begin any type of weight training before puberty. It would put too much strain on young muscles, tendons, and growth plates. By 13, your child’s nervous system and muscles should be developed enough.
- At age 14 or 15, add sport specific exercises and increase the volume of training.
- By age 16, most athletes are ready for entry-level adult programs, but only if they have gained a basic level of training experience. Start with higher volume/lower intensity work and gradually build to lower volume/higher intensity work
- No matter what age your child starts, the first year should be spent learning correct exercise technique and developing a general fitness base.
- Increases muscle strength and endurance
- Protects your child’s muscles and joints from injury
- Improves performance in nearly any sport, from dancing and gymnastics to football and basketball
Even if your child isn’t into sports, strength training can still be good:
- Strengthens bones
- Promotes healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Boosts metabolism
- Helps keep a healthy weight
- Improves self-esteem
It’s always a good idea to get advice for any regimen from a coach or trainer who can guide your young athlete into a safe and age-appropriate workout.