Power Training: Is it Safe for Kids? [Busting Myths & Proving Benefits]
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Power Training: Is it Safe for Kids?
If you have a kid that’s involved in sports, you want the best for them.
Power training is an area of sport and fitness that often sounds scarier than it is – especially when it is your kid doing it. We get it – you’re concerned.
However, it’s a huge part of the way we build athletes, it’s way safer than you probably think, and it’s something your kid definitely already does in their own time!
Today, we’re going to talk about the importance of power training, how it should be handled, and some of the best ways to make it safe and effective.
Power Training: What is it?
It’s simple: training to improve power output.
Power output is about how much force you can produce in a certain space of time. It’s usually measured with jumps, sprints and sometimes with weights. It’s not just about being strong but being able to use that strength rapidly.
Training for power is aimed at developing a child’s ability to use their force rapidly. It’s a tough one for coaches to maximize, but it’s a key part of many sports from track and field to the pitch.
The problem is that it sounds way worse than it is! Power training sounds like its going to involve beating your joints up and pushing yourself past limits but, in reality, it’s much gentler and safer than you might think.
Benefits of Power Training for Kids
Kids don’t have the same bodies as adults – they’re full of potential and, during these early years, training has huge long-term effects. Adults are limited in their potential for developing power and speed, but kids’ bodies are more plastic: they can improve their lifelong potential by training for power.
Simply put, if you train for power and speed as a child, you can drastically improve your long-term athletic potential.
This type of general physical preparation (GPP) is an important part of training athletes and its why kids should be encouraged into a variety of sports while they’re young. It teaches them to control their bodies and improve their overall health, fitness and, of course, sport performance.
- Better strength
- Improved speed
- Better joint health and reduced injury risk
- Improved muscular control and proprioception
- Long-term benefits to health and wellness
Common Myths About Training Kids
You’ve probably heard a lot about training for kids and the dangers it carries, but a lot of these are total myths. We’re going to break down some of the most common and worst myths – training for kids is great for them, and these myths are holding children back across the world!
Training and Growth
The first myth we always hear about when talking about kids and exercise/training is that it stunts growth and ruins their bones. This is total nonsense: – kids’ growth is actually regulated and promoted by exercise and there’s no real research suggesting that weight training or power training stunts growth.
In reality, exercise is awesome for kids. It’s why we focus on keeping them active and it’s a big player in their health as adults. The only time that exercise and training will stunt growth is when its done wrong – when injuries and poor coaching happen.
Exercise and athletic training are key for balancing kids’ hormones and making sure that they’re staying in shape. Additionally, this type of training is only going to strengthen their bones and joints in the long-run. We already know how these processes work and they bring benefits, not risks.
Plus, we’re always trying to get kids fit and healthy. With a growing childhood obesity crisis, it’s time we stopped worrying about them so much and started worrying about the risks that inactivity has on kids! You might catch an injury at some point if you play sports for a decade, but you’re less likely to get heart disease!
Another thing to remember is that power training is a huge part of proprioception – your ability to control and manipulate your own body. This is a huge factor in the long-term health and wellbeing of kids’ joints when they become adults and, as they age, it is a key factor in preventing falls, fractures and other lifestyle injuries.
Is Power Training Dangerous?
The media headlines will say yes – but they’re wrong and that’s not a surprise – they usually are!
The media like to make everything into a drama, but the science shows that power training for kids is far from dangerous if performed properly.
Training for sports doesn’t hurt your kids – look at how many kids play sports and how few are seriously injured (disregarding American football and rugby). In fact, weight training and other forms of performance training have some of the lowest injury rates of many type of sport or exercise on an hour-per-injury basis.
It’s hard to worry about power training safety when the incidence of injury in running is higher than in Olympic weightlifting!
1. Power training isn’t what you think
To start with, power training isn’t all heavy weights and impact. Most of it doesn’t involve any weights at all and, where it does, they tend to be light objects.
Most of the stuff we’re going to discuss in this article doesn’t involve a kid touching heavy weights. Weight training is totally healthy for kids and a huge way to improve their long-term health and performance, but it’s not what we’re talking about today.
Loading and heavy weights are only for the close supervision of a coach, but what we’re talking about is training for power, not strength. This means you’re going to see lots of jumps, throws and sprints. Stuff that kids love to do anyway!
2. Power training is great for health
We’ve mentioned this a bit already, but it’s worth bashing on about it!
Power training is something that we really don’t do enough of as a culture. It’s not just about big muscles, it’s about being fast and having control of your body. It’s also a key part of health and wellbeing that we often overlook.
Powerful people are less prone to injury, more aware of their bodies and better-equipped to deal with the problems associated with aging. Kids deserve to have time and effort invested in these benefits – they massively improve their lives!
3. What’s the alternative?
If you’re against power training – kids running, jumping and throwing stuff – then what is the alternative?
From what we’ve seen over the past few decades, the alternative is a childhood obesity crisis that’s damaging the new generations from childhood into adulthood and sabotaging their long-term health. It’s a problem that we need to address.
The types of exercise seen in power training are nothing new and they’re a form of physical activity that kids desperately need. If you only take one thing from this article, it should be this:
Training can lead to injuries, but not-training will lead to chronic health problems.
The alternative to exercise is an inactive lifestyle – a leading contributor to the most common causes of death in our population. Training is an investment in a child’s opportunities to excel in sport, but it’s also an investment in their health and wellbeing as adults.
4. Good coaches make power training safe for kids
This is key – a good coach is well-trained and highly-experienced making sure that their trainees are healthy. Injuries and problems only happen with poor coaching or – even worse – no supervision at all.
If your kid is being trained by a good coach, they’re already aware of the potential risks and they take every step possible to minimize them. They supervise children carefully and monitor them for any problems, changes or risks.
The only real problems you’re going to run into are overtraining or poor movement patterns. Overtraining is exactly what it sounds like: training harder/more than you can recover from. Poor movement patterns are simply bad ways of moving that put the joints or muscles at risk.
A good coach’s job is to remove these risks – something that carries over into everyday life. If children are given the opportunity to improve their movement quality and monitored well, they’re going to reduce risks in all areas of life, not just sport.
When Can Kids Start Training for Power?
Okay, so that’s a trick question. The answer is: “as soon as they can walk”.
This sounds nuts – toddlers can’t do hill sprints!
No, but everything that your child does from the time they’re able to walk contributes to their long-term health and athletic potential. The very act of walking requires kids to build strength and balance and, from there, it all counts.
Power training – and sport training in general – is just an extension of basic movement. There’s no age requirement to get better at movement, you just have to respect the limits and needs of that age.
For very young children, power training just means running and jumping and playing – nothing dangerous or scary.
As they age and improve physically, the methods used for training them become more sophisticated and training load increases. You can train a child at any age, all it takes is proper respect for their abilities and the patience to put movement quality first.
Kids are born and designed to move. Have you ever met a kid that didn’t have tons of energy for running, playing and moving around? Hell, you can’t even sit them down for more than 30 minutes at a time because they’re so movement-based!
Training for Very Young Children (walking to 5 years old)
During these very early days, it’s all about laying that foundation of movement and helping kids love the process. This doesn’t take much – kids tend to prefer moving to inactivity.
During this age, helping develop your kid’s abilities in sport is as simple as enabling them and making sure they’re safe. Giving them free-reign to run and jump and play in interesting environments is a great way to help them develop physically.
Running up hills with your child and jumping around on mats/obstacles is a super-easy way of starting to acclimate them to movement. This might sound obvious and simple, but when was the last time you (as an adult) jumped? Think about that.
Additionally, kids are at a very plastic age mentally during these early years. Something as simple as playing with these simple movements with a parent is an easy way to help them enjoy exercise. It also provides a great role model for movement and performance.
Just make your kids play with power training – they’ll do the rest for fun.
Training for Older Children (6 years old to early puberty)
During this age you can start dedicating some time and exercise to actual power training. Stuff that might not be a huge part of your child’s life otherwise – throwing exercises, structured jumps and more advanced training.
However, they’re young enough that the whole thing still needs to be fun. The fastest way to ruin any kid’s athletic hopes is to bore them with training. Power training is/should be fun!
It’s a super cool form of exercise and if you drain the fun out of it then you’re impressively boring. (If you need some inspiration, we’ve got your back!)
During these middle stages of childhood, you should empower your kids to participate in a wide variety of sports. This gives them the best foundation for overall performance and provides opportunities to engage with activities and training styles they could fall in love with – it might even help them find their sport.
During this time, it’s also a good idea to get in touch with some actual strength coaches and sports coaches to discuss developing a base of strength.
Kids’ Strength training during this time is a great way to aid physical development. A responsible coach can remove unnecessary risks during this process.
When Can “Children” Start Training Properly?
This is the big question: When can kids start training like adults?
The sad fact is that we’re still not entirely sure. The research shows that kids should ease into this type of training – as discussed above – but that’s about as much as we can say for sure. They should continue at their own pace to develop the basics of strength, speed and power as they age but there’s no hard and fast rule on when to start training like an adult.
The best approach is close communication with a coach – they’ll know when your child is ready to progress.
However, there’s not a real cut-off point – there’s no “proper training” that’s separate from the training they’ve done so far. Sport-specific training will slowly take over as they mature and figure out what they want to train for.
Different kids will become ready for different things at different times. Individual differences matter and the important part is to respect the necessary steps on the way to full, adult-style training. What we can say for sure is that it shouldn’t be full-fledged training until late puberty.
During the early and mid-stages of puberty, the focus should be on learning movement patterns and ingraining good technique.
This includes sport-specific movements and lots of “practice” but less “training” – you don’t want to load kids too heavily during this stage. We can tentatively say around 15 for girls and 16-17 for boys to start loading ‘properly’.
These are fuzzy estimates and individuals may start sooner depending on the sport and their personal development/athletic background.
Remember, even kids should be progressing as they continue to train, but this is about training volume/load: they can become impressive athletes before 15-17, but they shouldn’t take on adult levels of volume or there’s real risk.
Awesome Power Training Strategies for Kids
Power training is cool and if you wanted reassuring that it’s safe, this section is pretty good proof. These are some of my favorite ways of developing power in younger athletes and helping them to improve their long-term potential.
Medballs, slam balls and the popular CrossFit wall balls are all great for developing power. They’re light enough to be thrown with force and serious speed, but they provide some resistance to help develop real power. A great, versatile tool.
Medball Overhead Throw (For Distance)
This is a cool exercise that looks like a throw-in from soccer. It’s as simple as throwing the ball as far as possible. It’s going to train extension in the whole body if performed properly – key for any sport.
Medball Throw into Floor
This is an underrated exercise that’s super useful for many sports. It trains hip and core power – things that matter a lot for health, fitness and sport performance.
The focus here is simply on getting as long as possible at the top and hitting the floor as hard as possible.
Medball Scoop Toss
Throwing sideways into a wall is a huge exercise for sport and it doesn’t take much to get better. This trains the rotational movements and throwing mechanics for a whole bunch of sports – an aspect of core training that’s often left out but super important.
Medball Triple Extension Throw
This one is simply about throwing the ball behind yourself as forcefully as possible – aim to get the most height and distance you can.
This is all about training global extension – it requires power at the ankle, knee, hip, and shoulders to get the ball as far as possible. A great bang-for-your-buck exercise for training athletes – kids and adults alike.
Kids love to run. Let them run and make it fun. That rhymed.
Especially for younger kids, sprint training is as simple as running as fast as they can over a certain distance.
Sometimes, it’s just as simple as pointing them in a direction and watching them go. See how fast they can run, mix it up with changes of direction and, generally, just make sure they’re running as fast as possible as much as possible.
I’ve found that the hard part is usually getting them to stop.
Cat and Mouse
If you can corral and supervise two kids, you can make them play cat and mouse. This is basically a high-intensity game of tag that makes them better athletes. If you don’t like this game as a child or an adult, we can’t be friends.
Have one child stand behind the other with approximately 1-2 strides between them. The game is simple: the kid at the back has to catch the kid at the front, while the kid at the front has to stop that happening.
Both kids run fast because they want to win, it trains speed off the mark and this kind of friendly competition/incentivized performance is a good way to make training fun. To reiterate, this is a fun game for everyone, so maybe you need to show them how its done and get involved. Unless you’re scared you’ll lose.
Throw and Catch
A super simple exercise that you’ll see in the training of sprinters, this simply involves throwing a ball as hard/far as possible and trying to go catch it. This is actually quite difficult: the point is to catch the ball in as few bounces as possible.
This doesn’t even need to be a loaded ball at the start, but as the child-athlete develops, it can be a great way of adding different types of power loading. Start unweighted and, as the kid develops, you can add some weight to improve power and different types of output – key in many sports.
Sleds are great – athletes love the difficulty, don’t let them tell you otherwise.
Light sled pushes focusing on speed are an awesome way of training kids to develop power and it carries over well to many sports. The distance and weight will vary based on goals and abilities, but they should be moving fast.
This is a rough exercise but it’s going to mean big developments and start familiarizing young athletes with resistance and acceleration training.
Kids are bouncy little creatures so, as with running, this one doesn’t take much. You just need to encourage them and provide the right environment for safe jumping. That probably means some sort of foam.
Kids just need to be given things to jump on, over or into. To start with, focus should be towards jumping on stuff. Jumping can be a big ask on the muscles and joints. Start small – jumping onto stuff is safer and helps develop the same skills without much risk. As ever, start with low jumps and slowly increase the difficulty over time.
As a child ages, they become more capable and can withstand more complex exercise. This means moving onto multiple jumps in a row (such as the triple bunny hop), hurdle jumps and mixing up the directions of jumps – especially using small plyo hurdles.
The more jumps you include, the more dropping it involves and the higher the jumps, the more you need to be careful. These are factors that increase the load, so you have to be mindful that they should be saved for more advanced kids – add them in slowly and watch for any problems.
Power Training for Kids: Important Things to Keep in Mind
These are some small points you need to keep in mind that haven’t been discussed at length in this article just yet.
1. Keep it general
Kids need general training – it should only get specific as they get older/better. This means you shouldn’t train your kid for a sport, you should train your kid for sports. It’s about athletic development and being a great, healthy adult athlete – not about winning at the junior level.
2. Be Patient
Loading needs to be measured and it needs to be patient.
Your kid is going to adapt, but you need to hold them back from pushing that adaptation process too hard. Ease forwards – it’s better to leave more in the tank than to leave nothing in there and end up pushing kids into injury.
The more patiently you load, the more sustainable that progress is.
3. Growth Spurts
These are common in kids and they can really change a lot of the mechanics of their bodies. You might not notice it on a day-to-day basis, but its worth keeping track of.
You can usually track growth spurs by measuring height weekly and comparing sitting/standing heights.
Kids are more vulnerable to injury during these periods, so it’s a good idea to go lighter and more control-based during these times.
4. Consult a Doctor
This one is simple: you have a responsibility as a coach or parent to make sure that children are cleared with a doctor before/during any course of training.
No exceptions, no excuses.
Power training is one of the best ways for kids to spend their time: it’s fun, it provides plenty of long-term benefits and it keeps kids active.
There’s nothing wrong with enabling kids and encouraging them to progress. It’s easy to worry about being perceived as “pushy” but that’s only relevant if you’re doing things wrong.
Kids are designed to move and they love it.
Power training is not dangerous, it’s not going to stunt growth and it’s not going to break your kids. However, it is going to improve their opportunities in sport, develop their fitness and improve long-term quality of life.
Power training is great for all these reasons, as well as for what it isn’t: it’s an alternative to raising kids with chronic health problems, sedentary lifestyles and a ton of “what-ifs” that they might never address.
Power training is an investment in your child’s future and it starts the moment they can walk.
Professional sport/fitness writer at ApexContent.org, weightlifter and S&C enthusiast. Liam has over 5 years experience in coaching positions, learning under the best mentors and sport coaches in Britain. At the same time developed a love for relentlessly researching and writing scientifically backed content in health, fitness and sport performance.
Liam wears many hats, but they’re unified by a love for competition, performance, and engaging writing. You can throw abuse (and questions) his way in the comments and he’ll be happy to help you!