When Should a Young Athlete Begin Strength Training?

Deciding when it is appropriate for an athlete to begin integrating strength training into their training regime can be challenging, largely because this type of training involves both short and long term injury risk which could possibly cause more harm than good if not done correctly.  For this reason, the staff at Whistler Mountain Ski Club and I felt it is best to create a more structured approach to beginning strength training, and we have created a checklist that all athletes much complete before they can begin strength training.   To be clear, strength training in this context refers to exercise that utilizes high amounts of resistance, typically with the use of weights, dumbbells, barbells, kettle bells, cables, or other tools that force athletes to forcefully overcome inertia.  In general, an athlete is ready to integrate this type of strength training into their workout routine when:

  1. Their growth has slowed, and they are nearing their adult height.  We measure this at testing, but practically most parents will have already noticed if a child is growing very fast or not, and whether that growth is slowing.   
  2. They are diligently performing all other components of their workout plan, including endurance work, speed work, core stability work, sprints and jumps, balance, other sports, and more.  In other words, strength workouts should be looked at as the final component of an already well-balanced conditioning program.  Strength should never replace other components of a program, it should adjunct them.
  3. They have adequate form and stability with basic movements such as squatting, lunging, stepping, jumping, bridging, pushing, pulling, lifting, etc .  We have created some supporting videos for parents, athletes, and staff to view in order to be clear what constitutes a passing form for certain key exercises such as the squat. 
  4. The athlete has a passing score for the Whistler Mountain Ski Club movement screen testing, core stability tests, and/or any other orthopedic testing performed by a relevant health professional such as a physical therapist, athletic therapist, or kinesiologist. 
  5. They have performed these same movements like squats and lunges in a supervised setting with little to no loads and high repetitions for at least 6 months or more depending on the age, fitness and developmental stage of the athlete.  Whistler Mountain Ski Club has a suggested workout protocol for this, which can be downloaded below.  For athletes working out with outside fitness professionals, we have a list of recommended professionals that are familiar with our expectations.
  6. The athlete understands the recommended rules and etiquette of the fitness facility, in order to maintain a safe and respectful environment for everyone.  

Age is a poor determinate for starting strength training because developmental ages and training experience can cause extreme variability.  That said, the average earliest ages for starting strength training are roughly 14 years of age for women, and 16 for men. There is no rush for strength training to begin and younger athletes will experience better overall fitness improvements by focusing their energy in other areas.  These other areas in include body weight oriented strength and stability exercises, speed work, coordination, agility, balance, or endurance

The above 6 points are the components of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club checklist, which can be downloaded below.  If you think its time to start doing strength workouts, then print off the form and start working through it.  It is recommended that every athlete complete this checklist and be ‘cleared’ before starting strength training; as one of our coaches politely put it, “athletes are not permitted to look at a dumbbell until this checklist is complete’.  This checklist is also recommended for athletes using outside trainers, and we hope to work more aggressively with our partner gyms in the city to ensure safety for younger athletes starting to strength train. 

Feel free to reach out to your coach or the designated sport science manager for help along the way, and have either of these people sign off on it when you feel you are done.  Please note that only certain Whistler Mountain Ski Club staff or health professionals are able to sign off on point #3 and #4 – this will unfortunately create challenges every year to find designated people qualified for this task, but this should be reasonable so long as someone at the club thinks this is a priority moving forward.

We hope that this process is not too much of an inconvenience, and only acts to build your confidence that Whistler Mountain Ski Club values the safety and long-term health of athletes, and that we are striving to create a professional and respectful environment to pursue excellence in sport.