The question of strength training in youth (6-11) and adolescents (12-16) has been a topic of debate in the health care and strength and conditioning communities for years. There’s a common belief among parents and unfortunately, health care professionals that resistance training in youth is unsafe.
This claim is based on the argument that because this is an age of bone growth, the use of compressive forces such as weight training can lead to irreparable damage to the growth plate. The research to date cannot substantiate this claim. Surprisingly it is quite the opposite – with literature showing that a well-programmed resistance training regime can actually improve bone density and skeletal growth in children (1). The impaired growth plate rationale was anecdotal. It was not until the last decade that these claims have had enough research to reject them.
So Is It Safe for Youth?
Yes! The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all recently published position statements that declare resistance training in youth (6-16 years of age) to not only be safe and effective but also to be beneficial for development and growth (2-4). All of these organizations conclude that under the supervision and direction of a qualified coach, resistance training can teach children motor control and coordination skills necessary for effectiveness in sport and activities of daily living.
The compressive loading placed on a child’s body during a resistance training program would reach possibly up to 2x body weight. Gymnastics can place forces of up to 11x body weight on the joints (1). It is and will still continue to be considered a safe activity for kids. A child jumping down the street playing hop scotch can place forces of 5-7x body weight (5)! There is no possibility for weight training to exceed the loading of a child’s day to day activities.
Can Weight training Reduce my Child’s Risk of Injury?
Yes! A 2014 International Consensus position paper endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics reviewed the state of the research on injury prevention in youth who participated in a strength and conditioning program(5). When focussing on the risk factors in sport, strength training can reduce the prevalence of overuse injuries by 50%(5)! The case can be made for traumatic injuries as well. Resistance training that taught proper squat and jumping mechanics significantly decreased the rate of ACL injuries in young female soccer players (5). This is a leading mechanism of injury for female athletes!
Physical inactivity and obesity in young children are risk factors in and of themselves for injury. Obese children have twice the injury rate (1,5). This is likely due to increases stress on the body and decreased postural control relative to their weight. Resistance training can work to improve motor coordination and physical strength. Plus strength training helps control weight!
It is safe – but under SUPERVISION
All of the research stresses the importance of weight training programs being under the direction of a qualified coach. Coaches need to be aware of the developmental stage of the child and the principles of progression to make the program safe (1-5). Teaching of proper technique and biomechanics is extremely important for children as they begin a lifting program. At STAVE OFF, we have qualified coaches who have the skills and training to teach proper movement patterns and break down the lifts to ensure your child is moving optimally and reducing the risk for injury in sport.
Kids can see huge improvements in power, strength and agility with weight training that sets the stage for sport and life-long physical activity.
1. Barbieri D Zaccagni L. Strength training for children and adolescents: benefits and risks. Coll Antropol. 2013. 37 Suppl 2: 219-25.
2. Lavallee M. Current Comment of the American College of Sports Medicine. Sports Med Bulletin. 2002; 32(2): http://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/youthstrengthtraining.pdf.
3. Faigenbaum AD, Kraemer WJ, Blimkie CJR, Jeffreys , Micheli LJ, Nitka M, et al. Youth resistance training: updated position statement paper from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. J Strength Cond Res. 2009. 23 (Suppl 5): S60-79.
4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Strength training by children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2001. 107: 1470-75.
5. Lloyd RS, Faigenbaum AD, Stone MH, Oliver JL, Jeffreys I, Moody JA, et al. Position Statement on youth resistance training: the 2014 International Consensus. Br J Sports Med. 2014. 48:7 485- 505.
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