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When is the Right Time?

Off ice training is more popular than it has ever been, and for good reason. It can have a significant positive impact on your hockey game.

But when is the right time to start?

I often get asked by parents, “What is the correct age to start lifting weights?” or “What are the ideal workouts my kid’s off season?” It seems like every time you turn around another self-proclaimed expert is advising something or there is always a guy “who knows a guy” who is spreading some self-serving information that will fill his next camp. It can be tough to navigate and find the information that you need, so here are some tips and information that will help give parents some direction and dispel the rumours and misinformation.

There is NO magic age as to when athletes are ready to work out. All kids develop at their own pace. Because of this, we have both an athlete’s chronological age (actual age) and his/her training age. The training age is determined by the athlete’s experience in the gym and playing sports.

For example, we have two clients come into the gym. Client No. 1 is 14-years-old and has been playing sports since he was five and had two previous years of experience in a gym training with his team during the season. Client No. 2 is 19 and has very limited experience with sports and has never been in a gym. You can see that despite the fact client No. 2 is technically older, he would not be ready to lift weights yet. He would have to start at bodyweight progressions and work his way up while client No. 1 might be able to externally load some exercises with weight despite being, chronologically, five years younger.

Speaking of weight, there is also a concern regarding when young athletes should start lifting. Rumours about having to wait until bones are finished growing are pretty common. Again, the age at which an athlete starts weight training is linked to his/her training age. There are bones in the human body such as the scapulae (shoulder blade) and collar bone that are not done developing until your early 20s. You are not going to have athletes wait until they are 25-years-old before they start lifting weights.

As long as the athlete is coached and has progressed properly through the fundamentals then risk of injury is very slim. Truth is, the initial loads for athletes are probably the same or even lighter than other things they already carry. The young athlete performing a perfect squat with a 20-pound weight while he is aware of his form and technique, poses less risk for injury than that same athlete slinging his 30-pound hockey bag over his shoulder and walking with no attention to form or technique.

Another common question I hear all the time is, “What is the best thing for my kid to be doing in the off season?” For young athletes (ages 7-12) my answer might surprise you. The best thing to do is go play another sport.

These are prime years for the development of many athletic attributes that will form a youngster’s athletic foundation. Hand-eye co-ordination, re-action time, balance, proprioception (the awareness of his/her body in space) are all aspects which, when developed, improve athletic performance and are all prime for development at these ages.

There are drills you can do in the gym to better these attributes for sure and if hockey is the only path that the kid wants to take then it can be done. But even better, I would argue, is get out there and play other sports. All those athletic attributes will be developed through playing different sports and the kids will experience the benefit of both competition and of being part of a different team. Plus all the other great values that sport teaches us!

Until next time,

Strength, Courage, Hustle, Commitment

AJ Zeglen, Focus Fitness Manager & Head Strength Coach

Originally published in Game On Magazine