When it comes to children and adolescents participating in resistance training there are a lot of falsehoods, myths, and opinions that are not supported by any evidence. Most individuals believe that without a doubt strength training is not for children. This is unfortunate because we now know that children and adolescents can significantly benefit from participating in resistance training programs.
Won’t It Stunt The Child’s Growth?
It was once thought that resistance training would potentially stunt growth. The myth was that children performing resistance training would injure the growth plates in their bones, and thus it would literally stunt a child’s growth. No research has ever shown that resistance training will injure a child’s growth plates or limit their growth potential. Unfortunately, these prevailing beliefs act as a thought virus, and have held children and adolescents back from participating in resistance training.
The fact of the matter is that alternatively to resistance training being bad for you, we can actually see that participating in resistance training may actually be helpful by improving bone growth. The implications are huge because a disease such as osteoporosis (bone wasting) is a childhood problem with adulthood implications. Meaning that we need to have children doing higher load physical activities in order to reduce the likelihood of having osteoporosis in adulthood.
Strength Training Reduces Injuries
Strength training in youth and children can actually help to reduce the likelihood of injuries in sports. A program of resistance training can help children and adolescents increase their power, coordination, improve their change in direction speed and improve their motor control. When children participate in sports and initiate a resistance training program in the preseason there is a reduction in the likelihood of them getting injured during the season. Some of the most complex injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears can be prevented by strength training.
Resistance Training and Obesity
Around the world obesity is becoming an epidemic for children and youth. Aerobic exercise and resistance training have both shown to be effective at improving body composition, improving cardiovascular health and reducing body fat. Children should be getting 60 minutes of exercises 7 days a week, and within that amount of exercise adding resistance training exercises 3 days a week should be sufficient.
Proper Training Is Key
When a child is beginning a resistance training program they should be monitored closely. Resistance should be added slowly to ensure that proper lifting mechanics and form are maintained throughout the training program. It is recommended that a skilled professional help the child to design a resistance training program that is ideal for them. Depending on the capacity of the child or adolescent resistance training can begin with body weight and then progress to include free weights, machines and resistance bands all under the direction of a skilled professional.
Make It Fun!
For all children and youth it is recommended to make physical activity enjoyable. The benefits of resistance training are short-term unless the behavior is continued. Children should find exercises that are fun for them. For younger children this may involve making training into a game such as tug of war, or climbing around a playground. As children age they may enjoy doing push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, bear crawls, or wheelbarrow walking. Exercise that is fun and enjoyable can make a big difference in helping to make it sustainable.
In conclusion coaches, parents and guardians should not discourage children and youth from participating in resistance training programs. On the contrary we should facilitate children in performing more physical activity including resistance training to improve their health, reduce their likelihood of injury and to promote their psychological well being.
If your child needs help to initiate a program or has suffered an injury please call for a free consultation.
Lloyd, R. S., Faigenbaum, A. D., Stone, M. H., Oliver, J. L., Jeffreys, I., Moody, J. A., ... & Herrington, L. (2014). Position statement on youth resistance training: the 2014 International Consensus. Br J Sports Med, 48(7), 498-505.