I recently started training young baseball players (10 to 17 years old), and I have them doing mainly balance and core exercises, working on rotation and explosive strength, speed, etc. Yesterday, the coach who runs their hitting and pitching practice called me and said he wanted to see more Olympic-type lifting movements to increase their power through triple extension. While I can see that with older athletes, aren't the younger ones at risk for injury since they still have open epiphyses?
The injury risks associated with youth strength and power training are overplayed considerably in our industry.
While I am not suggesting that pre-adolescents should entertain the idea of heavy lifting or performing explosive-based techniques with high loads, the reality is that a child’s structure is placed at far greater stress in a given basketball or soccer game than it is within the confines of a well developed and properly executed strength training program.
Based on sensitive periods of development and in consideration of the young athletes' biological age and emotional maturity, the critical aspects of training for this age group should focus on gaining aptitude in coordination-based elements, movement economy skills and strength/explosive training technical elements – which will also include increasing the ROM at several joints.
Although I agree that athletes in the 10-year-old age group should not be performing Olympic-type lifting, my reasoning is one of skill development and not necessarily contraindication. Taking the time to teach the technical elements of various lifting exercises to kids in this age bracket is extremely important. While the young athletes’ nervous systems are still very plastic in nature and therefore able to learn new skills on an optimal level, it is critical in a long term and visionary-based training program to teach skills that will have resounding impacts later on in their athletic careers and not necessarily on today.
Comprehensively teaching Olympic lifts with light, pre-weighted bars is an excellent way for young athletes to learn force application, synchronization of movement and other technique-based skills. The same holds true for a variety of other standard strength training programs.
You are not wrong! The baseball coach looking to produce triple extension force via Olympic lifting with 10 year olds is off his rocker! Having said that, there is nothing wrong with you teaching the basic elements of these lifts as a means of instilling them as a skill to be used later on in the adolescent years. Other things that will be productive for these kids include:
- Jump training during which you teach proper landing and jumping techniques
- Any type of crawling, climbing or running games, which build systemic strength
- Basic lunge patterns and other unilateral/bilateral strength exercises (such as squats and reaches)
The bottom line is that the best way to improve speed in untrained children is to increase their strength!