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12 Common Mistakes Youth Athletes Make When Strength Training

strength training

Youth athletes enjoy hitting the gym. As soon as they have access to the weight room at school or they get their own gym membership, the weights start flying. While it’s good for youth athletes to begin going to the gym and building muscle, strength-training mistakes can lead to injury and time away from their sport.

Many exercises done in the high school weight room are just plain wrong. Strength-training is often misguided, done with too much volume, and with only one goal in mind: To Get Strong! High school and youth athletes must be aware of that. When they begin lifting weights just to prove how much weight they can bear, they are in there for the wrong reasons.

Fortunately, strength training coaches in the Santa Clara area can help you get back on the right track and avoid these common strength-training mistakes.

#1: Too light

There’s a saying that states something like this: insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The same can be said for the puny weights you use. If you started out with light weights, you must gradually increase the weight to build muscle and burn fat. The mistake here is that too many gym goers use light weights and do too many reps with them. This is not only ineffective, but it can cause injury as well because of the stress of the repetitions.


To build muscle, increase weight and do fewer reps. Stop with the 6 or 8 sets of 12 reps. You are wasting your time. Next time you are at the gym, challenge yourself to increase the weight, even if it’s too the next weight, and do fewer sets. Stick to 4 or 5 sets, not 8 or 10.

#2: Killing the same muscle

Youth athletes believe that to build up a certain muscle, let’s say the bicep and abs, they must work them to death. Swimmers focus on arms and shoulders, runners on their legs, and so on. Isolating a single muscle or group of muscles day in and day out can have the opposite effect. Isolating leads to overuse injuries, imbalances, and workout plateaus.


Make sure that strength-training is balanced training. Work different muscles in the body for maximum results. Sports are not one-muscle activities, so the workout should not be either.

#3: Too much weight

Youth athletes won’t benefit from too many reps with light weights, and they won’t see results with heavy weights either. Too much weight too soon is a common mistake youth athletes make when strength-training because they want to be stronger, look stronger, and perform better in their sports. The problem with too much weight is injury. Taking on too much weight too soon can cause exhaustion, sprains and strains, and it can make the muscles too weak when performing. Adding too much weight too early can cause poor motor circuits in the brain which are hard to correct later in life. Also, poor technique increases injury risk.


The solution is the same as the problem with lifting weights that are too light. You need to progress through your weight-training program and build up to heavier weights. Challenge yourself to slowly increase weight each time you are at the gym.

#4: No plan

Athletes have plans, and strength-training demands the same approach. What’s the outcome if you don’t plan for training and practice? You learn and do nothing that contributes to your success in your support. The same is true for your strength-training plan. You can’t walk into a gym and throw a haphazard plan together and expect targeted, productive results. You will make no progress if that’s the case.


Youth athletes must find a targeted strength-training program for high school athletes that allows them to progress through the plan AND improve their success in their sport. A strength-training program for swimmers may not be the same for runners and ballet dancers.  

#5: Ignoring the body

Your body tells you a lot about your strength-training program. Pain means you need to make a change. THERE IS NO GAIN WITH PAIN. There, that’s out of the way. No pain, no gain is a dangerous motto that too many gym-goers live by. Discomfort and soreness are common, pain is not. If you feel pain, your body is telling you something is wrong. Do you know the difference between pain and soreness?


This one seems simple, but it is often ignored: Listen to your body. If you feel pain, your body is warning you that something is wrong. Ignoring the pain can lead to damage to your body, asymmetry, chronic form abnormalities, and poor overall performance in your sport. If you feel pain, change what you are doing.

#6: Working out with friends

This mistake is not what you think. Working out with friends and teammates is beneficial because it encourages support, and it makes the trip to the gym more enjoyable. Working out with friends, however, can create a competitive atmosphere. While that’s great on the field, in the pool, or on the court, it can lead to trouble in the weight room. Pushing each other to lift more than your body can safely handle is dangerous. Doing it over and over causes harm and injuries the body. Even if you can lift the most, bear the most weight while squatting, or do the most crunches, at what cost to your sport?


Stick to the plan, and work out with other athletes who are working on their own plans. You won’t be doing the exact same things, but you will still be around to help each other and encourage – not taunt – each other to keep pushing.

#7: Big-box training

There are many big-box gyms popping up all over the US. Yes, they provide a valuable health benefit to the community, but they can be problematic for youth athletes for a few reasons. First, there are no trainers around, and if trainers are present, they don’t have the experience with your sport or individualized plans that youth athletes require. Second, the pictures on the machines are a catch-all approach to weight training. You can’t learn proper form, repetitions, and weight to demands for safe and effective strength-training plans.


Find a professional who has experience working with youth, and especially youth athletes. You can also take it a step further and find a strength-training coach who has specific experience in your sport. This goes back to many of the issues I have already discussed: haphazard plans, no guidance, too much weight, and so on. Find a professional who can help you progress through a program, not power through it.

#8: Celebrity plans and internet workouts

Training as an adult is not the same as youth training. The physical demands are different, hormones are different, goals are different, and the bodies are different. Youth athletes are still growing. Those are just a few problems with internet workouts, magazine know-hows, and celebrity programs. They are designed for adults, not youth athletes.


Do your research. Examine plans before you start them, and ask yourself: why am I doing this, and how does it benefit my sport? Again, youth athletes must train with strength-training coaches who have experience working with youth athletes to bridge the gap between youth sports and physical development.

#9: No attention to form

Too many youth athletes, and even gym trainers, add weight before the athlete has the form down. Too often the exercise itself take precedence over form and progression. While some coaches do the right thing and coach on form as well, they still tend to celebrate the young athlete who benched the most weight for the week. The message is confusing for athletes and kids who want to work on form but are constantly passed up because they are not lifting the most. This encourages kids to try to lift more and ignore form.


Perhaps the solution is one for coaches and trainers: put more attention into form instead of into “strength.” This sends a clear message to kids that the goal is not to be the strongest, but to find success in each exercise. Proper form is a necessity to avoid injury, imbalances, and safe progression.  

#10: Running too much

Running in a great cardio workout, but what is the goal of the long runs before or after a workout. Small runs are great, but 5Ks on the same day of strength-training can be exhaustive and useless. The muscles are tight and the body’s exhausted.


Expand your cardio horizons when strength-training. There are more activities out there that you can do in addition to or in place of exhaustive daily runs. Get creative, and on the days you do strength-training, keep it simple. Try sprinting and shorter runs to get the body warm and motivated.

#11: No mobility training

Mobility should be the goal, not flexibility. Yes, there is a difference. When the goal is flexibility, players often push their bodies past their normal range of motion. This can make strength training more difficult, it can impair the muscles, and it can cause stress to joints and ligaments. Focusing on flexibility instead of mobility often leads to improvements in specific stretches, not function. No one wins competitions or stays healthy by touching their toes. Instead, how one moves is key!


Transform the flexibility plan into a mobility-centered approach. Instead of focusing on the range of motion of a joint, use mobility methods to improve how well you can move through a movement without stress on the body, muscles, and its joints. Mobility can improve flexibility, but it can also make strength-training more effective and safer. Mobility techniques include SMR (self-myofascial release) and dynamic stretching techniques. The techniques are good for warming up, for active rest, and for recovery.

#12: Forgetting to have fun

Don’t forget to have fun when strength-training. This list wasn’t meant to be a downer, but serve as a guide for a better strength-training approach. When you stop enjoying the journey, the mental and physical side of training suffer. When you stop having fun, form falters, anxiety spikes, discouragement takes control, and your ambition to succeed is suffocated by your displeasure with the process.


Keep all the previous 11 points in mind to stay safe, build strength, and have fun. Find a coach with whom you enjoy working, employ the team to participate, and don’t lose sight of the end-goal. When you work out properly, the risk for injury and boredom reduce, which encourages you to continue your strength-training program. Thus, your performance in your sport will improve overall.

Final Thoughts About Strength Training Mistakes

You will notice a common thread throughout: you need a strength-training plan. Youth athletes must avoid going to the gym just to lift weights. The goal is to improve strength and improve performance in the sport. Many factors go into this, but the biggest and most important one is progression. Go big or go home simply won’t do. Progress for success and work with an experienced strength-training coach who has experience with youth athletes.