The old wives’ tale that athletes should not lift weights until after puberty has been around forever and could not be further from the truth. The idea that youth athletes cannot perform any weightlifting movements is ludicrous. If a wrestler can grab and pull their opponent’s leg to them, shouldn’t they be able to execute a dumbbell row? If a strong lower back and posterior chain are 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.
That base of strength should be built first with bodyweight exercises, and there are certain movement patterns that must be mastered, the most important of which is the “hinge.” The hinge refers to keeping your core braced and hinging at the waist to bend forward and pick something off the ground. The key is keeping your spine in a neutral position (no rounding of the back) and use your glutes to extend the hips as you stand up.
The “broom stick drill” is the perfect tool to help a youth athlete master the hinge and begin to understand how to keep their core braced and utilize their hamstrings and glutes when picking up anything from the floor. I have had tremendous success by assigning this as daily homework with youth athletes and in a matter of weeks they go from compromised movement to efficient hinging. At that point they are able to begin deadlifting light dumbbells or kettlebells.
Pay special attention to the placement of the broom and make sure their hips fold over with no movement in the low/mid spine. Once your youth wrestler begins deadlifting, emphasize perfect movement and positioning over how much weight they use. There will be plenty of years for them to chase heavier weights but now is the time to build a base of strength and movement that will set them up for success in the gym and on the mat.
Coach Myers is the strength coach for the Ohio Regional Training Center at The Ohio State University. With the Ohio RTC since 2012, he served as Ohio State Wrestling’s primary strength coach from 2014-18, helping the Buckeyes win three Big Ten titles, their first-ever team NCAA championship, and two runner-up finishes.
A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), Coach Myers owns the Old School Gym in Pataskala, OH, and is a founding partner of top supplement company Max Effort Muscle. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook, and learn more about his strength and conditioning programs for wrestlers of all ages here.