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Can Little Leaguers Strength Train?

Written on November 3, 2008 at 7:00 am, by Eric Cressey

Q: Mr. Cressey,

I was given your name and website from my massage therapist, who is a big fan of yours. I was wondering what your opinion is about when a child should start muscle strength training (not weight training) for baseball? I have a 10-year old son who pitches and I always worry about his shoulder since I have had to have surgery on both of mine. He is playing up in age so he is pitching from 50 feet and pitches a consistent 48 mph. I always ice him down after for 30 minutes, but what do you recommend him to do to prevent injuries?

A: This is a great question, and the timing is actually perfect (as I’ll explain in the last paragraph). In a nutshell, assuming good supervision, I’d start as early as possible.

While most of our work is with athletes in the 13+ age range, we run a group of 9-12 year olds every Saturday morning at Cressey Performance. There is a lot you can to with kids at that age to foster future success – but, more importantly, have fun.

It was actually started by popular demand of some of the kids who had older brothers in our program; they wanted to jump in on the fun. Now, we look at it as a feeder program of sorts; by teaching things effectively early-on and exposing them to a wide variety of movements, it makes it easier for them to become athletes down the road.

We work on squat technique and/or deadlift technique, with the majority of the time aimed at just keep them moving by performing various circuits that include things like jumping jacks, med ball throws, lunges, and wheelbarrow medleys, etc. We also have tug-o-war battles and SUMO wrestling where we have them grab onto a SWISS ball and try to maneuver each other outside of a circle. All in all, we have fun while at the same time improving their motor skills. That is what’s most important. I don’t want the kids to dread coming to the gym, which is what I think happens when trainers and parents start taking it too seriously. There’s going to come a time when things will get more specialized, but ages 9-12 isn’t that time.

Truth be told, kids nowadays are more untrained and unprepared than ever – yet they have more opportunities that ever to participate in spite of the fact that they are preparing less. It’s one of several reasons that youth sports injuries are at astronomical rates. As perhaps the best example, you can now see glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD) in little leaguers, as this study shows. The GIRD isn’t the problem; that’s a natural by-product of throwing. The problem is that kids throw enough to acquire this structural and flexibility anomaly, but have no idea how to manage it to stay healthy.

So, in a nutshell, find someone who understands kids both developmentally and psychologically – and make it fun for him. Looking for someone affiliated with the IYCA (www.iyca.org) would be a good start.

Also, among the products out there, Paul Reddick’s stuff is a great start if you’re looking for things to do with up-and-coming baseball players.

  • Chris

    Eric – great advice! It,s sad that so much emphasis in youth (8 – 13) sports is placed on performance. What happened to just letting the kids have fun?

    I like the direction you took – keep it fun for now – use drills that develop core strength and agility – let the “heavy training come later.

    Chris – the Rotater


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