On the topic of ‘should young athletes lift weights?’, we say YES. Find out why.

– Words from Essendon Strength Coach, Valerie Stoimenov.

Strength training, or to ‘lift weights’ for young athletes is often seen as just building muscles and lifting heavy weights. Therefore, it is not surprising that parents are hesitant to put their child in strength training. Furthermore, one of the biggest myths about strength training is that it stunts young athlete’s growth. However, there is compelling evidence that well designed and supervised training programs are not only safe for young athletes but play an important role in building a resilient, injury-free bod.

Strength training plays an important role when preparing for high-level sport. Yet many people don’t realise the benefits:

So why should young athletes lift weights?

1 Improves Sports Performance

Strength has a positive effect on speed, power, agility, endurance and flexibility. In fact, in young athletes, strength training plays an essential role in developing motor skills, coordination and stability. This is especially relevant for helping them progress through their athletic careers. In order to have efficiency when you compete, optimal muscle strength and joint stability are essential. Furthermore, this gives young athletes confidence and a competitive edge.

2 Reduce the Risk of Injury

Importantly, a well-designed strength program can actually prevent injury! In addition, it can improve joint function, bone density, muscle, tendon and ligament function. Due to postural deficiencies becoming more common among young athletes, strength training is a powerful tool to combat this. Yet because most don’t strength train, these postural issues can be a serious limiting factor in their skills development and transition to an elite level sport.

3 Create a Base for Future Career in an Elite Sport

As mentioned above, strength training gives young people confidence. This is especially important when moving from a junior to senior level in sport. Another factor that can impact youth athletes negatively, is when they specialise too early and do one sport only. This has been shown to increase risk of injury. However, strength training prevents the negative effects of early specialisation and can prolong the athlete’s career.

Indeed, when I arrived in Australia during the early 1990s, strength training at youth levels was not common. Furthermore, the new recruits in AFL did not have sufficient strength to compete with the older players. Yet, as a youth athlete myself, I was introduced to proper Strength and Conditioning at the age of eleven! My philosophy in regards to youth sports development identifies general physical preparation & strength as the foundation for athletic potential.

it is safe for young athletes to lift weights

My experience

I hold a Master’s Degree in Coaching and Physical Education and completed coaching courses in Level 2 S&C, Level 1 Olympic Weightlifting and in Level 3 IAAF Sprints, Relays and Hurdles.

However, my coaching career started back when I was playing professional Team Handball in Europe. Since 1990, I have been working in Australia and China as a Strength and Conditioning Coach with pro athletes from many sports. During this time, I have been fortunate enough to have worked with many great athletes and teams across Europe, Australia and China. As a result, some of the athletes I have coached include:

  • Men’s Australian National Basketball Team and NBA players: Shane Heal, Joe Ingles, Andrew Bogut.
  • Women’s Australian National Basketball Team and WNBA players: Penny Taylor, Rachel Jarry, Belinda Snell.
  • Australian Football League (AFL) players: Shane Crawford, Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge, Matthew Lloyd, James Hird, Tom Scully, Jack Watts, Jack Higgins.
  • Liu Zige: Chinese Olympic gold medalist (Beijing 2008); world champion and world record holder in the 200m butterfly.


Valeri has coached athletes across world-leading sporting professions including the Olympics, the NBA, WNBA and AFL. Throughout his esteemed coaching career, Valeri has helped many high profile Australian athletes make successful returns to the elite level following serious injuries and surgeries.

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