Improving Strength to Weight Ratio with Your Youngest Athletes – Brett Klika

According to the Centers for Disease Control, it appears that roughly 32% of children are either overweight or obese. Compound this with large scale youth inactivity and the result is a growing number of young athletes who will struggle with poor strength to weight ratios beginning at a young age.

As youth strength and conditioning coaches, we are in a position to help these children improve this important component of health and athleticism while minimizing frustration with our youngest athletes. While bodyweight exercises may prove troublesome for these youngsters, there are other effective movement strategies that can help them build the strength to move with more confidence and competence as they get older.

Consider the movement strategies outlined below when working with young children whose bodyweight stands in the way of their ability to move effectively.  

Strength implements

Exercises with dumbbells, kettlebells, Sandbells, medicine balls, etc. can be performed with weights well below that of a child’s body. While a 100-pound child be not be able to move their entire body mass effectively during a push up, they may be able to perform a dumbbell bench press or med ball throw with a 10-pound implement.

Consider an inactive and/or overweight child’s joint and muscle proprioceptors. When a large amount of load is placed on, such as bodyweight, they are quickly overloaded and send the “abort” signal to the surrounding structures. Using implements with lighter loads not only improves coordination and strength, it preps their proprioceptive system to manage load more effectively.

Not only will these exercises help them improve their strength to weight ratio over time, they will most likely enjoy them and be willing to perform them with a greater level of intensity.

Sandbell Spelling


Overhead Press


Vertical Slams


Pushing, Pulling, Gripping, Carrying

Pushing, pulling, gripping, and carrying activities can be done at sub bodyweight loads, but have a tremendous positive impact on the proprioceptive system. Pushing and pulling can be done without the impact of gravity. Pushing/pulling sleds, pulling ropes, and similar exercises minimize the negative impact of increased bodyweight and allows for heavier loads to be used.

Gripping activities like farmer walks and suitcase carries not only impact the hands and forearms, they aid in improving shoulder stability. As proprioceptive strength and stability improves at the shoulder, exercises like pushups and pull ups become more attainable.   

Pushing, Pulling, Carrying


Suitcase Carry


Alternate Grabber


Assistance exercises

While improvement in strength are usually observed with increases in training load, actively assisting movement can help develop motor coordination patterns that slowly translate to strength in “under-strong” young athletes.

For example, a child may not possess the hip, leg, and core musculature strength to stabilize and mobilize everything necessary for a lunge or squat.  Suspending an elastic band overhead and placing it under a child’s arms or having them hold it to unweight their body as they move can allow them to perform the movement correctly. Over time, slowly decrease the thickness of band that is used until it becomes unnecessary.

During assistance exercises, kids are able to go through full joint range of motion and their brains and bodies learn the proper neuromuscular sequence. For overweight children, this may be the only way they can perform these movements initially.


While isometric exercises still involve a child’s bodyweight against gravity, removing the complication of dynamic movement can help their proprioceptive system develop the proper stability needed in a given body position.

For example, a pushup requires not only the stability of the hips and spine to integrate the whole-body movement, it requires the concentric and eccentric strength to control the body moving down and up. Focusing on merely the aspect of stability in the static position, children can then slowly add the additional component of movement either against gravity or with some form of assistance.

It is important however to monitor a child’s ability with these exercises. If they prove too difficult, consider using implements, etc. to improve strength.

Push Up Plank


Wall Sit


All of the movement strategies above not only help inactive and/or overweight children improve their strength, they contribute to an increase in physical activity. Strength goes up, bodyweight goes down. The result is improved athleticism, success, and enjoyment with physical activity for life.

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and a regular contributor to the IYCA who is passionate about coaching young athletes.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.


If you want to be better at coaching young athletes, the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.

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