Is Resistance Training a Good Idea for Children and Adolescents?
“Lifting weights will stunt your growth!” Or will it? I’m sure many of you reading this blog have heard that statement before. I know I have. Growing up as a young baseball and basketball player, I was keen on learning all I could to become a better athlete. Generally, the coaches I played under were heavy on skill work and aerobic conditioning, and as a youngster I was told that weight lifting would ruin my growth plates, make my joints hurt, and make me slow. Maybe I have those coaches to thank for a 6’2” frame…Or maybe not…
In September of 2014, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a position statement on the topic of resistance training in children (up to the age of 13) and adolescents (12-18 years old). Their job was to summarize the existing research on Youth Resistance Training. As providers of physical therapy and performance coaching in Eugene, we feel compelled to share their findings and help our community attain/maintain optimum health and well-being.
Is it safe for kids to lift weights?
Perhaps the most propagated myth surrounding youth resistance training is that it will cause harm to bones that are in the midst of development, and potentially cause irreversible damage to growth plates. To date, there is no scientific evidence to support such a statement. In fact, when paired with sound nutritional habits, resistance training can improve bone-mineral accumulation.
It is important to point out that kids do sometimes get hurt when lifting weights. Data collection reveals the main reasons for this:
- No supervision
- Supervision by someone who is unqualified
- Inappropriate program design/weights that are too heavy
- Unsafe training environment
What are some other benefits of resistance training?
Time and time again, studies have demonstrated the efficacy of well-designed resisting training programs in reducing the likelihood of injury. Here is a summary of just a few studies:
- Reduced rate of knee injuries in football players over the course of 4 seasons
- Fewer injuries and less time spent in rehabilitation
- Reduced risk of severe and overuse injuries in soccer players
- Potential to reduce overuse injuries by 50% in children and adolescents
- Decreased likelihood of ACL injuries in adolescent athletes
- Injury prevention programs are more effective when implemented at an early age, before “bad movement habits” occur
And perhaps my favorite quote from the paper:
“…the earlier youth can engage with a well-rounded training program inclusive of resistance training, the lower the likelihood of ACL injury.”
Coaches are important!
If you coach anyone under the age of 18, it is vital for you to understand the importance of proper movement mechanics and adherence to injury prevention programs.
“Of note, recent evidence suggests that adherence of adolescent female soccer players to injury prevention programs is greater when facilitated by appropriately skilled coaches. This underscores the importance of regular coach education to ensure that qualified professionals understand the mechanical requirements of correct exercise techniques, fundamental principles of pediatric exercise science and the pedagogical aspects of coaching youth training programs.”
If you are not experienced in the field of strength and conditioning, that’s ok! We’re here to help. We can introduce you to proper technique with some of the best “bang for your buck” movements, as well as identifying potentially harmful movement patterns in your athletes’ landing/cutting mechanics. We will try to feature some more specifics in future blogs but we are also available for more thorough consultation at our clinic/performance center.
Ok. I’m a believer. Where do I begin?
First off, it would be wise to consider setting up an appointment with a physical therapist or strength coach at Tensegrity Physical Therapy and Performance Center. Our staff has the knowledge and experience to set you up with a well-balanced exercise progression, without the guesswork or uncertainty of program design and technique. In addition, your needs may be different than your peers’ since each individual has there own unique way of moving. If you are reluctant to do so, I have provided some very basic guidelines for initiating a resistance training program.
Without getting too specific, there are some general guidelines that you can start with. An untrained individual with no history of resistance training should maximize strength gains with the following parameters:
- 3-4 sets per muscle group in a training session
- 60% of 1 repetition maximum (approx. 15 repetitions)
- 3 non-consecutive days per week
(Reminder: These are general parameters are for those who have not lifted weights previously. Trained individuals generally respond better to lower rep ranges and higher total volume.)
A starter program may look like this:
It is important to realize that form should be excellent all the way through the 15th repetition. If you don’t know what good form is for a particular exercise, you should not be doing it until you consult a qualified professional. Lastly, never work through pain! Muscle fatigue is ok, pain is not.
Keep an eye on this blog moving forward, as we will have more specific instruction on movement technique and exercise in injury prevention.
-Warren Hebert DPT, CSCS-
Peterson M, Rhea M, Alvar B. Applications of the dose-response for muscular strength development: a review of meta-analytic efficacy and reliability for designing training prescription. Journal Of Strength & Conditioning Research November 2005;19(4):950-958.