The Truth about Youth Training

By Chris Carlsen

            The Truth about Youth Training

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Youth athletics is a topic that engenders great discussion and debate among trainers, strength coaches and parents.  Often, we hear stories of children and teens who push themselves (or are pushed by parents and coaches) to the physical brink within their sport only to suffer debilitating injuries that impede their athletic career.  Research finds that these incidents are more pervasive than we could imagine.

Studies suggest that:

High school athletes suffer 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year.¹

62% of organized sports-related injuries occur during practices.²

Nearly half of all injuries sustained by middle school and high school students during sports are overuse injuries.³

What causes these phenomena?

Various factors contribute to the high incidence of student athlete injuries and a host of issues ranging from childhood obesity to sports-specific specialization play a role.  One of the most prominent variables is the absence of physical activity from many children’s daily routines.  Children aren’t playing outside as frequently as they were, and lead sedentary lives in front of computer and television screens.  In addition, parents encourage sports-specific specialization.  By focusing on one specific sport from an early age, children do not develop a general physical capacity for various activities (e.g. running, climbing, pushing, pulling).  More importantly, children do not build a foundation of strength that will minimize future injuries.  All of these factors have led to a noticeable decrease in strength-to-weight ratios among our youth.

Strength-to-weight ratio is simply the measurement of one’s physical strength divided by their weight. Maintaining an optimal ratio is essential for athletic performance, as well as accomplishment of functional daily tasks as one gets older. A good assessment of strength-to-weight ratio is how well an individual can do bodyweight activities (pull-ups, push-ups, jumps, sprints, etc.) as well as weight activities such as dead-lifts, squats, swings, and Turkish Get-Ups. In the past, children developed a foundation for strength and coordination, which would later allow them to physical activities, by engaging in the following: running around, throwing snowballs, climbing trees, digging holes and performing chores.  Yet as was earlier noted, the advent of today‘s technology deters our youth from participating in as much physical activity as previous generations.  This is problematic because movement skills need to be honed in on at an early age.    

A sedentary lifestyle coupled with overuse injuries related to a specific sport will cause dysfunction and poor motor movement, leading to the inability to perform bodyweight activities and other strength exercises. If today’s youth don't perform a volume of these general physical tasks, they may experience a functional detriment lasting for the rest of their lives. For example, 15 years ago 75 % of children could do a pull-up and a push-up.  Now, a mere 20% can execute these exercises.

How do we combat this problem?

To mitigate and reverse this alarming pattern, movement must be thought of as a necessary skill for both children and adults.  In addition, our children must engage in appropriate strength training programs from a young age.  Often times, parents worry about their children strength training and lifting weights. With the lack of educated professionals in the fitness industry, parents are vindicated in feeling this way. But with a good coach and a sound program, strength training is the solution.  In fact, parents should worry less about strength and more about their child who pitches on a baseball team, yet cannot even perform a proper push-up; or a teen who plays in a multi-directional sport but lacks the ability to squat or dead-lift with good form.  Moreover, parents should grow apprehensive when their children play on three teams (same sport) simultaneously (which leads to overuse injuries and extreme fatigue) or when coaches of these teams moonlight as performance trainers, but lack the education and experience to make this claim.  While parents must change their mentality in relation to strength training, and rethink their decision to let their children over-participate in sports, they must also recognize that the main vehicle for combating these problems is by promoting General Physical Preparation (GPP).

What is General Physical Preparation?

General Physical Preparation is a term popular in Russian strength training and youth athletics.  It encompasses the idea of all-around physical development to perform a multitude of activities more or less successfully. Developing GPP will also encourage: general endurance, general strength, general joint mobility, general coordination and general psychological preparedness. The goal is to introduce children to a wide variety of skilled drills and activities, to identify their weak areas and to subsequently turn their weaknesses into strengths.  Children will master bodyweight movements in addition to the basic strength exercises (deadlifts, squats), which in turn, will prepare them for future athletic endeavors while greatly reducing their risk of injury.  By identifying strength deficiencies early on, a program will be designed enabling your child to master new forms of movement, thereby creating stronger young men and women who are prepared for their sport of choice.   


 What are your child’s keys to success?

       • Safety becomes simplicity: Encourage simple, safe programming for each child to ensure that their mobility, flexibility and strength weaknesses are mitigated.   

       • Building upon movement: Utilize safe movement progressions that give way to strength gains, building GPP in the process and ensuring that your child is prepared for their future sport. 

·         Continuous evaluation: Assess movement and balance asymmetries with general and specific movement screens and also understand the demands of a child’s sport.

·         Growth Spurts: Strength Training will help teens stabilize their new length. Take it from someone who grew seven inches over one summer.

·         At what age can children start weight training? Ten years old is the perfect time to start to teach foundational movements. The less there is restore, the better. Children under ten should play multiple sports per year. 

·         Self-esteem: Weight training increases confidence and self-esteem. Kids are searching for their identity, what’s better than belonging to something that promotes health and wellness.

If you are interested in learning more about GPP, have a question about your child or player’s specific sport or injury or would like to schedule a youth training seminar at your facility, feel free to email us at, or leave a comment below.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sports related injuries among high school athletes, United State, 2005- 06 school year. MMWR Morbid Mortal Wkly Rep. 2006 55(38);1037-1040. mmwrhtml.mm5538a1.htm

 2. Rechel JA, Yard EE, Comstock RD. An epidemiological comparison of high school sports injuries sustained in practice and competition. J Athl Train.2008;43(2):197-204.

 3. Olsen SJ 2nd, Fleising GS, Dun S J Andrews JR: Risk factors for shoulder and elbow injuries in adolescent baseball pitchers. J Am Sports Med 2006 ;34-905-912