12 Crucial Strength Building Exercises For Youth Athletes

Dustin Myers


Many parents and coaches do not actively employ an effective strength training regimen for their youth athletes due to several prevalent misconceptions.  Like most training myths, the ones that I commonly hear from parents have some sliver of truth to them but have persisted due to a lack of credible knowledge on the subject and scant resources. 

1. Strength training is dangerous for youth athletes

You are absolutely right, strength training can be dangerous, for athletes of any age.  What is the key, whether your athlete is 6 or 16?  Teaching proper technique and utilizing exercises that are both age and sport appropriate.


2. More is better

Wrestling is a grinding sport.  The athletes at the upper echelons - NCAA, Olympic - require a tremendous workload to be successful.  However, your goal for your 10 year old (future Olympian) should be for them to enjoy wrestling, and to look at strength training as a fun part of the process.  I’ve met many wrestling parents who have their youth wrestler doing some ridiculous regimen like “200 push ups and 200 sit ups before bed every day, 2 mile run before school every day”.  While their intentions are to help, this kind of never ending grind will burn out any kid and can be dangerous.  Any athlete, particularly youth athletes, need rest and recovery for their body to grow and gain strength. 


3. Athletes should not lift weights until after puberty

Again we have another myth that is rooted in truth.  Their are certain exercises - hang cleans, barbell back squat, any movement that loads the spine - that I do not recommend for most athletes until after puberty.  But the idea that youth athletes cannot perform any weightlifting movements is ludicrous.  If a wrestler can grab and pull their opponents leg to them, shouldn’t they be able to execute a dumbbell row?  If a strong lower back and posterior chain is required to finish a high crotch in good position, wouldn’t an athlete benefit from learning how to deadlift?  The key is building a solid and symmetrical base of strength before learning how to lift weights.


4.  Strength training will stunt their growth

This old wives tale has been around forever and is basically dispelled by my rebuttal to the previous myth.  But while we are on the subject, you know what will stunt your athletes growth?  Having them cut weight for a wrestling tournament, or poor nutrition in general.  I would be more concerned about the growth stunting potential of a never ending high fructose corn syrup diet than a few sets of bench press.


Here are 12 Crucial Strength Building Exercises that any Youth Athlete can benefit from with the proper coaching:

BW Slant Rows

Set a bar at waist height (or higher depending on strength level) in a rack and lay underneath of it.  Grab the bar with either an over hand wide or underhand medium grip and straighten your body out so only your feet are touching the ground.  Row your chest up to the bar, squeezing your shoulder blades together and keeping your body straight the entire time.


Push Ups

Keep your core tight and body straight as you lower your chest to the floor.  Keep your head in a neutral position and exhale as you press your body back to starting position.



The most important thing to remember about a plank position is to keep your abs flexed and do not allow your hips to sag.  If your abdominals relax and hips lower, you are putting your lower back at risk.


Split Squat

Place one leg behind you with your foot on the bench (laces down).  Keep your chest up as you perform a single leg squat.  Keep your knee behind the front of your foot.


Glute Bridge

Lay on your back or across bench with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor.  Press thru your heals as you bridge your hips up, squeezing the glutes at the top.


Pull Ups

Grab a pull up bar with a medium overhand grip.  Lean back slightly and engage the lats as you pull your chin above the bar.  Lower under control until your arms are almost straight, but not to a dead hang un-packed position.



Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides as you step forward into a lunge.  Keep your knee behind your toe, and avoid leaning forward.  Touch the opposite knee to the ground and then step up and forward.  Alternate legs every other rep.  Can be done with bodyweight only.


Hamstring Bridge

Lay on your back in front of a bench.  Bend one leg at roughly 90 degrees and place the heal on the bench and the other leg straight up in the air.  Press thru your heal as you raise your hips, pausing at the top as a straight line forms from your knee thru your hip to your shoulder.



Stand with your feet at shoulder width.  Initiate the movement by sitting back and squatting down to parallel.  Exhale as you stand back up to starting position.  For an added twist, utilize time under tension of 5 seconds on the way down and a 5 second pause at the bottom.


BW Skulls

Place your hands on a rack, bench, or plyo box, with your thumbs rotated up slightly so your elbows point towards the floor as they bend.  Touch your forehead to your hands then extend your arms, locking out at the top.  Keep your abs engaged and body straight the entire time.


Farmers Walk

Grab a heavy set of dumbbells and stand up straight with your chest up and shoulders back.  Walk 50-100ft then return.  The goal dumbbell weight combined for advanced athletes should be your bodyweight (100lb athlete should use 50lb DBs).


Stability Alternates

Begin from either your knees or a Swiss Ball, slowly raising one leg and the opposite arm, holding each rep for 2 seconds at the top.  Advanced athletes start in a push up position.

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