Weight Lifting for Youth Baseball Players

** When you’re done reading you’ll either hate me for what I say or love me for the insane offer at the end of the post ;-) **

Alright, here’s a question I get at least once each week from parents looking either for proper guidance or to try to back me into a corner.  Either way, here’s what I’ve got for you and you can take it or leave it ;-)

“Hi Dan,

I really love your program I purchased over the summer last year.  My question is this.  My son who is 13 has been following your program.  However, anytime I tell another parent or even a coach that he is lifting weights they tell me I’m crazy, and that it will hurt him, stunt his growth, etc.  So, my question is, is 13 too young to be lifting weights?

Thank you
Craig S.”

Hey Craig, thanks for the question!

I’ll admit that I take a lot of heat for my stance on youth strength training, but I’m ok with that.  I firmly believe that kids need to be working out as soon as they show a desire to get involved. Especially these days when most kids experience of playing sports is to throw their headset on and trash talk with “friends” around the world while controlling digital representations of athletes on their X-Wii-Play-Box.  Sure, they might dominate in the digital world, but they are letting their bodies melt into the couch day after inactive day.

But at least they are getting their physical activity during gym class at school, right? The last time I talked to one of my old college friends who teaches physical education to 7th-12th graders he said that about 75% of the kids come in with some sort of doctors note telling them that organized physical activity will in some way shape or form lead to catastrophic breakdown of this, that, or the other thing.  And the 25% that are allowed to participate are already on the schools sports teams so they get a pass to go to practice instead of gym class.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I would ride my bike to the woods, climb the trees, skip stones in the river, get my swimming in when I fell into the river, go to the other side of town for a game of stick ball, then head to practice for whatever sport we were playing that season.  After practice I would reverse the order (swimming, skipping stones, climbing trees, riding back home) and be home before the street lights came on.  After dinner it was back out to play a game of running bases or two hand touch (yeah, right) football under the street lights.  Sometimes I even found time to do a bit of my homework… sometimes.

I guess kids today are just different, but then again so is society.  I, for one, won’t let my son ride his bike all over creation like my brother & I used to. It’s just not smart.

So, to begin to answer your question…

Back when we were growing up we didn’t need structured workouts and strength training programs because we knew how to be kids. We got strong by playing and climbing and fighting and throwing and whatever other crazy stuff we decided to do.  Kids today don’t or can’t do that because we as parents are too smart to let them wander off and do the dumb stuff we used to do.  So offering your son an organized and supervised outlet for his boyhood energy is a very good thing!

Yes, I’m thrilled that you picked up my program, but in all honesty it’s not the program that’s working wonders for your son, it’s your son’s body adapting to being a growing boy with an outlet for his pent up physical aggression.

Onto the “I can’t believe you let him lift weights” part of the question.

Heck, I can’t believe people don’t let their kids lift weights!

My son is 4 years old and he does better pushups then most guys in Americas gyms these days.  And guess what, he enjoys doing them!  If he said, “Daddy, this is dumb, I don’t want to do pushups.” You know what? I wouldn’t make him do them. He’s only 4, I’m not going to force the kid to workout if he doesn’t want to, go ahead and play with your lego’s and enjoy being a 4 year old.

But when a child expresses interest in something that will benefit him for his future both on and off of the playing field I see absolutely no reason to discourage it.

A few things to keep in mind with strength training for kids.

1 – Keep it light & keep it right!

You mentioned that your son is 13.  What’s his max squat or deadlift? If you have an answer I’ll track you down and drag you to DYFS by the little hairs on the back of your neck.  He shouldn’t have a max. Heck, I’m not ever sure he should know what weights are on the bar.  Keep the exercises light.  And when you think they are light enough, you might want to take another 5 pounds off just to be on the safe side.

Now that we’ve figured out how much weight (or lack of) that he should be lifting, it’s time to focus on technique. Get it right. No, get it perfect!

Going into my 10th year as a division 1 collegiate strength coach nothing thrills me more then bringing my new class of freshmen into the weight room for their first workout of the fall only to watch their faces when they realize that I’ve removed all of the bars from the room.  And yes, that is my workout for the week.  You try dragging 50+ 45 pound bars from one end of the room to the equipment closet in 15 minutes while the upperclassmen cooldown after their workout… wait a minute, that’s their workout next year!

But I digress, these 17 & 18 year olds come in fired up to begin their new life as a college athlete only to be handed a 6 foot long PVC dowel that weighs a few ounces at most.

I line them up and show me their representation of a deadlift, squat, front squat, and RDL. And then I bang my head against the wall because these kids never learned anything about technique growing up.  They simply learned to make their movements look like what they think they remember from the internet or what some big guy at the gym looked like. Monkey see, monkey do is a very dangerous game to play int he weight room.

So, we spend the next 2 weeks in the weight room with little white PVC pipes learning technique.  Once they think they have mastered the technique, we break them down and teach it to them again… and again… and again.

Finally we graduate to the 45 pound bar.  Again, they line up to show me that they have mastered technique.  If they have it down they are allowed to use just the bar for the next 2 weeks.  If they have any flaw in their technique whatsoever – back to the PVC pipe!

Since most college coaches aren’t looking for huge contribution out of their incoming freshmen I have the freedom to hold them back in their strength gains for the most part of the year while I cram technique down their throats. And then we begin to progress them from the 45 pound bar in increments of 5 pound plates per week as long as technique doesn’t falter.

An amazing thing can happen if you progress a 17 year old by 5 pounds per side each week. At the end of the spring semester & summer training blocks (28 weeks) he would have progressed from just a 45 pound bar up to 325 pounds for the lifts – with perfect technique!  Guess how many people have the ability to progress that far? Few. Somewhere along the lines, their technique will catch up with their strength levels and they will find that they are lifting more weight then they had previously, with better technique and therefore less pain and better performance.  It’s an amazing thing!

2 – Keep it fun & on the run!

Ok, that was a tough rhyme there, but deal with it.

If you’re 13 year old isn’t having fun while training it’s your fault.  You have made it all about becoming the best _____ on the team, getting that college scholarship in 5 years, being drafted in the top 3 rounds after getting his GED next summer so he can start at a JuCo when he’s 14 and a half years old being the youngest kid ever to enter the draft.

Back off and have fun!

If you don’t find it fun to workout with your son (and yes, you should be doing the workouts as well (and probably with the same light(er) weights that he’s using)) then guess what? He’s not having any fun either. And guess what lifting and moving things is to a kid who’s not having fun? A chore and or child labor.  Either way, you don’t want working out to fall into that category.

So what about on the run?

I’m not recommending going for a 5 mile jog after your workouts.  Instead, I like to keep things moving for my younger guys during our workouts.  If we’ve got 5 moves to do for the day we’ll set them up in a circuit so we do 1 set of each back to back until everything has been done once. Then we start over at the top and do them all again and again until the entire workout is completed.  This allows up to finish our workouts in 20 – 30 minutes.  It also keeps it interesting for the kids because we don’t have to sit around and make small talk between sets.  Seriously, what is a guy in his mid 30′s going to chit-chat with a 13 year old about? The collapse of the housing market due to sub-prime mortgages and adjustable rate loans?

3- Keep it a secret.

Seriously, don’t tell anyone.  If your friends are jumping on your case because you and your son are training together, don’t tell them.  What they don’t know won’t hurt your son.

As for the myth’s that your friends are asking you about (stunting growth, hurt him, etc…) check out this blog post by my friend and colleague Eric Cressey and have them read it as well – The Truth About Kids & Resistance Training

Rock ON & keep the questions coming!


PS – If you are looking for a fun way to integrate workouts with your youth baseball player pick up “Workouts for Baseball – Medicine Ball Training for Youth Baseball Players” today for ONLY $9.99 with 1 cent shipping!

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