All too often I have parents approach me inquiring about the effects of strength training, both pros & cons, that could occur in their child during their time training with me. They often become worried for the health and safety of their child due to a friend or family member exposing them to convincing, yet false, information.
The majority of statements made are coming from an uneducated, or a biased, point of view. Research and literature on the subject dates back as far as the early 1990’s, some even later than that. The current research has solidified those views and sheds light on all of the positive results from strength training during an early adolescent age. In the following section I will provide a few common myths about youth strength training, the truth behind those myths, as well as current literature & research to reinforce those truths.
“Strength Training stunts the growth of young children”
Young children, in fact, have great responses to a linear-progression style of strength training. If taught correctly, it exposes them to correct movement patterns (squat, press, pull, hinge, lunge, etc.), improves muscular strength & bone mineral density (BMD), and instills a greater sense of self-efficacy within that child.
“In the past, it was thought Resistance Training (RT) was detrimental to youth athletes and was specifically avoided out of concern for damage caused by the high forces exerted upon the adolescent skeleton resulting in concern for increased physeal injuries and the potential for stunted growth. Multiple studies have since discredited this theory by demonstrating there are no adverse effects of RT in youth athletes, when designed properly, and is often completely injury free. Instead, athletes who incorporate RT into their training regimen have demonstrated decreased rates of fracture, musculotendinous and muscle injuries associated with sport specific practice and competition. RT has been shown to decrease injury rates by increasing bone strength index (BSI) and mineral content, strengthening tendons and improving the strength of accessory muscles to prevent injury during practice and competition. (Myers, Beam & Fakhoury, 2017)”
“Strength Training is dangerous”
There is some truth to this statement, but not in the way you’d assume. Strength training, especially youth & adolescent, can be dangerous if not under the watchful eye of a trained professional. Far too often, young children are being forced into a training methodology that is too advanced or too demanding. Too often does an under-qualified coach place the child in a position that they will fail and possibly lead to injury. 90%+ of injuries that happen are due to incompetence of the supervisor, poor weight selection, and improper use of the equipment. The majority of kids and athletes just need to be told explicitly what to do, shown explicitly what to do, and coached explicitly how to do it. With proper guidance and a watchful eye, strength training is one of the safest and most beneficial activities to put your young child into.
“Current research findings indicate a relatively low risk of injury in children and adolescents who follow age-appropriate resistance training guidelines, which include qualified supervision and instruction. A wide variety of resistance training programmes from single-set sessions on child-size weight machines to multi-set protocols using different types of equipment have proved to be safe and efficacious. . .These findings are supported by others who found that the sport of weightlifting can be safe for youth provided that well-informed coaches supervise all training sessions and competitions in order carefully to prescribe the weight lifted. In the vast majority of resistance training intervention studies the injury occurrence in children and adolescents was either very low or nil and the resistance training stimulus was well tolerated by the young subjects. (Faigenbaum & Myer, 2010)”
“My child won’t actually get stronger”
This statement could not be farther from the truth. If you happened to miss my last article (Click Here), I talked about the importance of strength being our foundation. It comes before everything else. Similar as in adults, the majority of youth will develop and feel those strength gains through the creation of new neural pathways. With maturation, proper nutrition, and training progression we will begin to see muscular hypertrophy (growth).
“There is evidence that Resistance Training (RT) has the potential to improve muscular strength, muscular power, muscular endurance, agility, balance and stability, coordination, and speed of movement in youth athletes (Harries et al., 2012; Lesinski et al., 2016). These training-induced gains in health and skill-related physical fitness parameters may support young athletes during the acquisition phase of complex movements, for mastering sport tactics, and to withstand the demands of long-term athletic training and competition (Faigenbaum et al., 2016). Given this broad spectrum of RT efficacy, it is plausible to argue that the previously reported effects of RT in youth athletes translate to their athletic performance (Faigenbaum et al., 2016). (Granacher, Lesinski, Büsch, Muehlbauer, Prieske, Puta, Gollhofer, Behm, 2016)”
Strength training is not only safe, but extremely beneficial to youth. During a well-structured, professionally-supervised training program, clients & athletes will see increases in muscular strength, power, and size. They won’t see it, but there will be an increase in bone mineral density, preventing any early-onset of osteoporosis. They’ll also see a decrease in body fat percentage, resting heart rate, and blood pressure. The biggest takeaway for a youth athlete will be the confidence and maturity gained through disciplined strength training. They are able to then take that confidence and maturity into many different aspects in their life.
Faigenbaum, A. D., & Myer, G. D. (2010, January). Resistance training among young athletes: Safety, efficacy and injury prevention effects. British journal of sports medicine. Retrieved November 3, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3483033/#idm140264826653344title.
Myers, A. M., Beam, N. W., & Fakhoury, J. D. (2017, July). Resistance training for children and adolescents. Translational pediatrics. Retrieved November 3, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5532191/.
Granacher, U., Lesinski, M., Büsch, D., Muehlbauer, T., Prieske, O., Puta, C., Gollhofer, A., & Behm, D. G. (1AD, January 1). Effects of resistance training in youth athletes on muscular fitness and athletic performance: A conceptual model for long-term athlete development. Frontiers. Retrieved November 3, 2021, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2016.00164/full.