A question I often get asked by energetic BJJ parents is “should my Bjj kid do s&c?” as a parent who wants the best for your childs sporting career I can understand the desire to give them the best training in all aspects. Its great that you are interested in helping your child be and do better especially when we are very much beyond the flawed notion that strength training will stunt growth or damage growth plates. Strength and Conditoning for children has many health benefits, injury prevention benefits and psycho-social benefits much the same as adults.
Strength training for kids is safe but it comes with caveats.
I’ll go over the main points when concerning this question.
Children are not little adults.
Children are biologically and mentally different to adults, especially when it comes to exercise. It must be made very clear that simply adapting an adult training programme to suit a child will not only produce poor results, but will likely increase injury risk and dissatisfaction. Very rigid and structured exercise programs can be particularly tricky for children especially the younger they are. Children especially young ones derive much of their physical capacity and literacy from play and this can be challenging for adults to understand. Remember they started BJJ because they found it fun, so exercise needs to be engaging also. Where as children see exercise as fun adults can be pretty darn self flagellating with it, if you want drop out, don’t use exercise as punishment.
Biological age and chronological age can be wildly different
Childhood development is a very individual experience, children of the same chronological age can be significantly far apart in physical development. I’ve seen children of the same age who looked like they where 5 years apart physically and this discrepancy can impact participation. Early developers are often the favourites of coaches as they rapidly develop physical capacities their less developed training partners just don’t have. With this in mind their training needs will differ also. Children who have not gone through puberty produce testosterone and growth hormone in very small amounts so cannot recover from very intense training sessions.
So what type of training can children do?
Children are extremely pliable skill-wise and engage in bodyweight training pretty much at every opportunity (we used to call it play!) and they certainly can perform this type of exercise with high frequency, things like pull-ups, push-ups, climbing, crawling, tumbling. If you do teach them strength movements, ala squat, hinge, push, pull and carry keep everything simple, don’t progress them too fast and once puberty kicks in you can progress them to more serious training taking advantage of the hormonal changes. In short Basics Basics Basics, much like BJJ.
My usual age recommendation for very ‘structured’ S&C begins at 14 to 16 for most youth athletes, at this point they are often psychologically mature enough to knuckle down to more serious training. It is about this age I start to introduce more conventional strength training in the form of ‘heavier’ barbell work. Even during this period natural strength levels, training age and biology still play a factor.
Take Away Points
1. Strength and Conditioning for Children is safe when properly supported.
2. Much like training adults weight training needs to be properly implemented and coached.
3. Respect the biological age of the children, what they do should be age related not age determined. Biology, mental maturity, natural strength levels, training age (how long they have been training) and technical proficiency all play a role.
4. Properly designed program can improve performance and health.
5. Technical competency should never ever be compromised.
6. If its stops being fun they’ll stop wanting to do it.
Below is 16 year old BJJ Blue belt and aspiring MMA athlete Cory, she has deadlift numbers that would make most adults jealous. A foundation of Boxing, Wrestling and BJJ has given her a solid foundation and a capacity to learn