Weightlifting for Youth Athletes
One great thing about training youth athletes is that they are in their developmental years and can respond really well to training stimulus. They’re also at the period of their life where they are not fully sure as to what they find interesting or what they want to pursue, so they are usually willing to try new things. Just recently at Lift Lab we started a free youth Weightlifting program for the summer. The plan is to teach athletes from grades 6th-12th to become as proficient in the snatch and clean and jerk as they can in just three months. This is really cool, and we are really excited about doing it, but why should a youth athlete be interested in it? What good is Weightlifting for the youth athlete? There are a few reasons why Weightlifting can be beneficial for a youth athlete… Proper Coordination Youth athletes are usually in the stage where they have trouble coordinating movements. During many athletic activities they just don’t look as “natural” as older athletes who have had more time and experience to develop their capacities. Learning the snatch and clean and jerk at a young age is great to teach a young athlete proper timing, rhythm and coordination. The snatch and clean and jerk are two very complex lifts, and if a youth athlete can start to develop the technique related to the lifts, they can get some carry over to other athletic related activities. Getting better at the snatch and clean and jerk isn’t necessarily going to make a young athlete better at draining a three pointer, but they should develop some physical characteristics associated with making them a better athlete on the court. Development of Strength and Power Keeping the conversation on the development of physical characteristics, no two characteristics are more crucial than strength and power. If an athlete can get stronger and more powerful this should automatically make them a better athlete. The snatch and clean and jerk and assistance exercises are a great way to develop strength and power with an athlete. The snatch and clean and jerk teach an athlete how to accelerate a barbell with a high velocity, which in turn develops power through the legs of an athlete. Assistance exercises associated with the Olympic lifts like squatting, deadlifting and pressing are great ways to load athletes up with a bit heavier weight so they can develop some overall strength throughout their entire bodies. Ability to learn new tasks When we are young everything is a learning experience. During our developmental years we are always bombarded with new tasks and new environments that we are unsure how to navigate in. If as kids we aren’t continually exposed to new things, we can begin to lose the ability to adapt and respond well to things that are unfamiliar. The sport of Weightlifting can pose a huge task on a youth athlete not just physically, but mentally as well. The snatch and clean and jerk are very complex movements that can be hard to understand and perform. Just like pitching can be hard for a young athlete just starting out, so can the Olympic lifts. If a youth athlete can learn and gain confidence when performing the Olympic lifts this should bring good carry over to other parts of their development. When faced with new tasks and uncertain circumstances a youth athlete with experience in Olympic lifting might approach it with a bit more confidence than their counterpart that hasn’t been subjected to novel stimulus. Option for another sport Most kids grow up playing the popular field sports like football, baseball, softball, basketball, soccer, etc. The harsh reality is that most kids growing up playing these sports will not end up playing professionally. What does this mean for someone who has grown up their entire life competing, but will have no other competitive outlet after college? This is where the sport of Weightlifting comes in. Weightlifting is awesome because there is no age or ability restriction. People compete into their 60’s. Weightlifting can provide another competitive outlet for a youth athlete. It also provides a sport that an athlete doesn’t have to quit if they can’t get a college scholarship. An additional benefit is that most kids that start Weightlifting fairly young can get pretty darn good and can potentially earn opportunities to represent the U.S.A in international competitions later down the road. Weightlifting is still a niche sport and because of this the competitive ceiling isn’t as high as more mainstream sports like football or baseball. Lastly, an athlete isn’t as limited to their genetic potential because things like general strength and power are a bit easier to develop than the top end speed and skill level of a LeBron James. The goal of this article was not necessarily to persuade youth athletes to dive into Weightlifting, but to let them know that it is an option that is open and to show some of the possible benefits involved with it. I was an athlete from about the age of six all the way through high school. Knowing what I know now, I really wish I would’ve been introduced to strength training and the sport of Weightlifting a lot earlier. It would’ve aided in my development to be good at other sports, and I would’ve probably used Weightlifting as another competitive outlet after high school.