I recently got my hands on a transcript from a seminar entitled the Ultimate Pitching Coaches Boot Camp. This seminar was held in 2007 in Houston Texas. While my intent was to increase my knowledge on how to be a better pitching coach for the dozens of pitchers I currently train, when finished reading I took something else away as a key point to remember. That point had to do with adolescent physiological development.
The point was made by renowned expert Phil Donley. Phil is a Hall of Fame Athletic Trainer- a Consultant to the Philadelphia Phillies for the past 5 years- Has Measured Over 1400 pitchers and is the Author of 12 books. He is considered by many as the preeminent expert in arm care and arm health for pitchers.
Phil Donley presented some excellent data on when bones become skeletally mature. It made me think of a comment spoken to me on Saturday by one of my 7th grade basketball players. I had told the player, who has height but lacks any real strength or agility, that he needed to be in the G.Y.M. with me a couple of days a week to build some strength. He told me that another coach of his commented about how kids shouldn’t strength train at young ages because it would stunt their growth. “I don’t want to stop growing coach” is actually what he said to me. WOW. It is amazing how uninformed opinions can shape how young athletes think.
Let’s look at some intriguing figures set out by Donley in this seminar. This information has actually been available in the literature for more than 20 years. I’ll focus on the shoulder just to keep things brief. In a baseball population, the epiphysial plate most commonly injured from throwing at the shoulder (Little League Shoulder) is located at the proximal humerus; this growth plate (physis) accounts for about 80% of humeral growth, and matures by age 19 in most people.
Current literature on biomechanics indicates that the maximum shoulder external rotation and ball release phases of throwing (being the fastest motion in sports) provide the highest rotational torque and distraction forces, respectively, with the maximum external rotation phase being most likely related to the development of little league shoulder. According to the Western Journal of Medicine, “The act of throwing a baseball hard is an abnormal whip-like action which places a forceful repetitious traction strain on the shoulder joint. Shoulder pain in youngsters engaged in organized competitive swimming programs can also be explained in this way.” I could not find any clinical evidence that resistance strength training is detrimental to the development of bones.
Donley went on to explain that bone maturation isn’t uniform across the body. While the shoulder growth plate might mature at 19, the elbow Growth plate (distal physis) is finished between ages 10 and 16. The proximal and distal radius plates might maturation anywhere between 14 yrs. old and 23 yrs. old. Meanwhile, the clavicle matures at ages 22-25, and the scapula generally matures by age 22. How many of you have ever heard of a college football being held out of weight training for all four years of his participation because weight lifting might stunt the growth of his clavicles and scapulae? The truth is we know that the strength training benefits of increased muscle size and strength actually protect from injury on the field.
So, violent (over use in pitching or swimming) and traumatic events such as being tackled or falling, far exceed any stress on a young athlete’s bones that we could possibly apply in a resistance strength training setting. At Peak One Performance we believe that a young athlete should start resistance training as early as their attention span allows it. The emphasis, of course, would be on body weight exercises, technical proficiency, and most of all keeping things fun.
Injury prevention is a key component to strength training for these young athletes. When accurately assessed, an athlete is placing a ton of stress (3-6 times body weight in ground reaction forces) each time they stride during the sprinting motion. Kids jump out of trees and off of swings all the time. They lug around heavy backpacks. They are expected to get every out they can from their baseball coaches. Besides increased performance, general health, and self-esteem benefits, it’s only right to give them a chance in trying to avoid injury by strength training with a qualified youth athletic trainer.
Another great point made by Eric Cressey (widely known throughout MLB as a top trainer) is “that as an adolescent athlete grows, his center of gravity moves further up from the ground. This is a big part of the lapse in coordination we see in kids during their growth spurts. A little bit of strength goes a long way with respect to maintaining the center of gravity within the base of support, and makes an athlete more comfortable ‘playing low’ (hip and knee flexion) to bring that center of gravity closer to the base of support.”
Appropriate resistance training is not only safe for kids, but it’s also very beneficial. In a review published by Faigenbaum and Myer, the authors concluded:
“Current research indicates that resistance training can be a safe, effective and worthwhile activity for children and adolescents provided that qualified professionals supervise all training sessions and provide age-appropriate instruction on proper lifting procedures and safe training guidelines. Regular participation in a multifaceted resistance training program that begins during the preseason and includes instruction on movement biomechanics may reduce the risk of sports-related injuries in young athletes.”
When performed correctly and made fun, resistance strength training is safe and provides tremendous benefits to kids in both the pre-adolescent and adolescent stages. The Peak One Performance Academy provides the environment needed for your young athletes to enjoy and grow from their training experience.
My stand is; strength training at Peak One Performance for pre-adolescent and adolescent student athletes is awesome. Having your child learn the importance of an athletic lifestyle at a young age is crucial to many areas of development. Beside not stunting physical growth, it strongly promotes mental and emotional growth. It helps your child understand nutrition and the benefits of properly fueling the body for athletic and academic prowess. All promoting a stronger, more competent adult life. Let’s give our kids an opportunity to grow up and become part of the solution, not part of the problem.