The Right age for strength training
By Ed McNeely
Strength and power are important part of hockey fitness. One of the biggest questions many parents have is when to start their young athlete into a strength training program. While many trainers will give you a standard answer like 15 or 16 years old the answer really isn’t that simple and will vary from athlete to athlete based on their rate of growth and development.
Age Does not Equal Development
Children develop and mature at different rates, even as little as six months of age can make a tremendous difference in size, strength and speed of young athletes, this is particularly true as kids approach their teen years and their major growth spurt. How often have you seen a 14 year old who is six feet tall and weighs 200 pounds playing against others who are five feet tall and weigh 100 pounds.
Growth and Development
Growth is the change in body size as measured by height and weight. Development is the maturation process related to growth but includes social, emotional, intellectual and movement skill changes.
As a child grows their muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, nerves and hormones all develop at different rates and different times. These differences create what have been called “windows of opportunity” for training i.e. periods of time when their body is going to adapt most effectively to certain types of training. Taking advantage of these windows of opportunity will allow your child to maximize their development and future performance, missing a window of opportunity or having the wrong training emphasis will have a long term negative effect on their performance making it more difficult for them to reach their full potential.
Parents through the use of a something called Peak Height Velocity (PHV) can easily assess growth, maturity and windows of trainability. PHV is a measure of how quickly a child is growing. While children grow from birth through to about age 20, there are variations in the rate of growth. During the first year of life a child will typically grow 25 cm, from the ages 5-10 growth rate is usually 5-6 cm per year. During puberty, growth accelerates to an average of 9 cm/year for girls and 10 cm/year for boys. This rate of growth continues for 24-36 months. By taking monthly measures of your child’s height you will know where they are in their growth and development cycle and be able to determine the type of on and off ice programs that are most appropriate.
Around the time a young athlete starts their growth spurt is a critical period of physical development. This stage in their life represents a period of trainability for endurance, speed and strength. It is critical for parents to continue to monitor changes in height during these years as the child’s growth determines the effectiveness of certain types of training. Endurance is most effectively improved at the start of PHV while strength training is most effective in girls when the reach PHV and in boys 12-18 months after PHV. This doesn’t mean that strength training is started at those times; it needs to be started 6-8 months earlier. Weight training technique takes time to learn, a good weight training technique program that starts before the window of trainability will allow your child to get right into a program and take full advantage of an important developmental period. If they wait and start the program during the window of trainability they will lose six months learning how to do the exercises.
As an aside, It is common to hear hockey parents proudly talk about how quickly their child has grown and how well they are doing in sports. These early maturers seem to have a definite advantage in contact and collisions sports because they are bigger and stronger than the other kids they are playing against. Do not worry if your child starts their growth spurt a little later than their peers, while it may be difficult playing against bigger kids those who grow more slowly have extra time when they are most adaptable to skill development and often become more skilled players than those who reach PHV at a younger age. When they do grow and catch up to their peers in height and weight they are ahead of the game because of their greater skill.