This is an excerpt of an article by Dr. Aaron Horschig. Click here to read the full article complete with referenced medical studies.

“When is a young athlete ready to start squatting with a barbell? This is one of the hardest questions for many coaches to answer definitively. We do know that weight training is safe for children of all ages, as long as they are adequately supervised and coached.

A system/screen is needed to determine whether the young athlete is ready or not. Athletes need to demonstrate acceptable quality of movement before a barbell is introduced. If the kid you’re coaching can’t even perform a good body weight squat, there’s no reason why you should place a bar on his back.

Placing a loaded bar on top of an athlete with poor movement patterns increases the risk of injury. Ensuring an athlete is ready to start training with a barbell comes down to 2 simple questions.

  • How well can the athlete body weight squat?
  • Can the athlete maintain technique when a barbell is added?

Your athlete is like a race car. Attempting to put the car in a race with a flat tire is a recipe for disaster. Making sure the car is in good working condition before racing is crucial. The young athlete needs to be able to demonstrate a good body weight squat before slapping a barbell on his back. Technique before training, always.

Once an athlete can pass the body weight squat screen, it is time to add a barbell. If the athlete is able to show good technique with the bar, they’re ready to start training. Regardless of age, barbell training can be extremely safe as long as proper technique is shown and adequate training loads are prescribed.

Think of the squat as a movement first. The squat as a training tool or exercise is second. Technique and movement quality always trumps how much weight is on the bar. By focusing on technique, we can limit the potential of injuries to our young athletes during training and play.”