Benefits, Appropriate Starting Age, and Lifting Heavy Weight
The subject of strength or resistance training for young athletes is a hot topic among parents, coaches and fitness professionals. Based on the feedback of many professionals and trainers in this arena, here is what we currently know:
- Strength/weight train a young athlete, you will stunt their growth by sealing off their growth plates.
- Strength/weight training makes the young athletes big and slow.
- Speed camps and speed/agility training are the only safe and acceptable type of training for young athletes.
- Strength/weight training for young athletes is inappropriate, unsafe and should be discouraged until the young athlete is fully developed.
Raise your hand if have you have heard this before?
I think it is an unfortunate fact that this information does not originate from the uneducated masses and uninformed parents, instead this nonsense originates from individuals claiming to be professionals.
How sad is it that we have school rugby coaches telling children to run and tackle one another as fast and as hard as possible and telling the parents that they shouldn’t have their children engaged in strength training because it will hurt them and make them big and slow. Take a moment to reflect on this statement. Its fine for children to partake in contact sport and risk injury, but it is not fine to go down to the local gym and do strength train in order to strengthen their bones, ligaments, and tendons, which in turn will help minimise injury in sport and protect them from the coaches stupidity.
The people making these claims do not understand strength training, have never strength trained themselves, or most likely are very intimidated by strength training and therefore shout judgment. Simply said, these people in no shape or form should be training athletes or found providing advice or guidelines to you or your child.
I decided to take the time write this article because I am tired for hearing this rubbish. It is 2018, research and technology has improved and most of the information is freely available. This article is aimed at my fellow professions, and members of the medical and paramedical fraternity who are too lazy to use the available technology to read the available research and for the parents of our young athletes, in a hope that it would empower them to find the correct advice or professional to help their children reach their performance goals.
This is what you will find if you do your research.
- Strength training is recommended for children as young as six by major professional organizations.
- Weight and strength training has been shown to be much safer than running, jumping, or participating in most sports.
- There are endless benefits associated with weight training for young athletes.
This article is presented as a summary of some of the research on the topic of Youth Strength Training. With all the information presented, parents should feel empowered and encouraged to actively promote strength training to their children in an attempt to improve the preparedness of the aspiring young athletes for the demands of sports participation.
That being said, the statements come with a warning, you have to become proactive as a parent if you would like your child to benefit and prosper in sport and life in general.
- All weight/strength training programs for children should be competently supervised, properly instructed, and appropriately designed.
- Coaches and parents should find highly competent strength coaches that possess both the academic as well as the practical experience to properly teach and develop programming for athletes.
Beware: there are a bunch of idiots out there with no background or no basic knowledge of strength training principles that are only in it for the money, who will gladly take your money and injure your child.
Benefits of Strength Training
The benefits of strength training on young children are well documented. Appropriately prescribed and competently supervised youth resistance training programs offer significant health and fitness benefits to boys and girls:
- Creates a positive self-image
- Boosts confidence
- Helps develop social skills
- Enhancing overall muscular strength and local muscular endurance
- Strengthens muscles, ligaments, tendons
- Improves bone mineral density
- Improves body composition
- Positively influences aerobic fitness
- Improves blood lipids
- Improves motor performance skills (e.g., jumping and sprinting)
One of the best benefits of children doing strength training is its ability to improve the preparedness of aspiring young athlete for the demands of sports participation.
A growing number of young athletes suffer sports-related injuries annually because they are ill-prepared for the demands of sports practice and competition. An estimated 15% to 50% of all injuries sustained by children while playing sports could have be prevented if more emphasis was placed on developing fundamental fitness abilities prior to sports participation (1).
Ground Force Reactions and Injuries
When young athletes practice or participate in sporting events, they are subjected to ground reaction forces on the body. Every step you take is subject to gravity on the body (how much you weigh) and momentum (how fast you are moving). The majority of injuries in sports are caused by these ground force reactions.
Every time you do an activity, you are putting huge amounts of stress on your body:
- Walking = 1.5 x Bodyweight
- Running = 3-6 x Bodyweight
- Jumping = 4-11 x Bodyweight
For a 54kg athlete, this means:
- When a 54kg athlete walks, he/she is putting 82kg of force on a single leg.
- When a 54kg athlete runs, he/she is putting 109kg – 327kg of force on a single leg.
- When a 54kg athlete jumps he/she is putting 218kg – 600kg of force on a single leg.
If you apply these forces into normal childhood play and sports they become even greater. Throwing, tackling, jumping out of trees and falling from jungle gyms will all far exceed any stress on a child’s bones that we could possibly apply in a strength training setting.
When children do strength training, they do so in a controlled environment and the loads are gradually and systematically increased over time as these athletes become stronger and more comfortable with the techniques.
Strength training helps build muscle, tendon, and ligament strength to help protect the athlete from these ground forces. If an athlete is not engaged in a properly designed strength and conditioning program, the chance of injury is significantly increased.
What age is appropriate to begin strength training?
Major professional organizations such as The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend strength training for children as young as six years old. In general, if a child is old enough to participate in organized sports, such as rugby, soccer, or gymnastics, then they are probably ready for a strength training program (2,3,4)
Contrary to a popular misconception, there is no evidence that an age-appropriate strength training program, done under qualified supervision, is detrimental to a child. In fact, research has shown strength training helps children maintain a healthy body weight, benefits skeletal and joint development, and improves sports performance. ACSM reported that strength training programs can prevent as many as 50% of all preadolescent sports injuries (5).
Eric Cressey says, “a young athlete should start resistance training as early as his/her attention span allows for it.” I personally don’t work with athletes younger than 9 because of their shorter attention span, but I have been known to work with children who are younger, who show drive and focus. For competent strength coaches that have plenty of training time under their belt, it comes down to common sense. If the child looks ready to lift, can move well, and has the ability to create good stability throughout various movement patterns, then they’re ready for external loading.
How heavy can a child lift?
What is considered heavy to you may be a warm-up weight for some of the children I work with!
It all comes down to physical maturity and whether or not a child can move the weight with good form and technique. It comes down to assessments and knowing your athletes.
There is less impact on muscles and joints lifting weights than what a sprinter would encounter. Micheli was arguing this point 30 years ago when he stated that repetitive impact sports such as running should give more cause for anxiety than should weight training (6). World renowned exercise scientist Mel Siff, Ph.D., has stated, “It does not require much scientific knowledge or computational genius to see that the cumulative loading imposed by simple running activities on the lower extremities and the spine is far greater than the cumulative load of two or three times a week of weight training (7).
My conclusion to this part of the 2 part article is that it is better to have children do strength/resistance training in a controlled environment, under qualified supervision to better prepare them for their sports of choice, than have them just go out and participate in sports and risk permanent injury.
In the next part of this article, we will look at research regarding Strength testing and debunk more of the fears associated with strength training children.
- Micheli L. Preventing Injuries In Sports: What The Team Physician Needs To Know. In: Chan K, Micheli L, Smith A, Rolf C, Bachl N, Frontera W, Alenabi T, Eds. F.I.M.S. Team Physician Manual, 2nd Ed. Hong Kong: CD Concept; 555-572, 2006.
- American Academy Of Pediatrics. Committee On Sports Medicine. Strength Training By Children And Adolescents. Vol. 107 No. 6 June 2001June 2001.
- American College Of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Current Comment ‘Youth Strength Training.’ March 1998.
- Faigenbaum, Avery D., Et Al. “Youth Resistance Training: Updated Position Statement Paper From The National Strength And Conditioning Association.” Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research 23.5 (2009): S60-S79.
- American College Of Sports Medicine (ACSM). “The Prevention Of Sports Injuries Of Children And Adolescents.” Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 1993, 25 (8, Supplement), 1-7.
- Micheli, L.J. Physiological and orthopaedic considerations for strengthening the prepubescent athlete. Nat. Strength Condo Assoc. J. 7(6):26-27.1986
- Siff, M.C. (2003). Facts and Fallacies of Fitness. Denver: Supertraining Institute.
- Hamill, B. Relative safety of weight lifting and weight training. J Strength Cond Res 8: 53–57, 1994.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sports-related injuries among high school athletes—United States, 2005–06 school year. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 55: 1037–1040, 2006.
- M. Purvis, R.G. Burke. (2001). Recreational Injuries in Children: Incidence and Prevention . J Am Acad Orthop Surg. Nov-Dec;9(6):365-374.
- Shillington, M. (2002). Resistance Training For Prepubescents And Adolescents: A Review. Strength and Conditioning Coach. (Vol. 9, No. 3).
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- Baker, D. Differences in strength and power among junior-high, senior-high, college-aged, and elite professional rugby league players. J Strength Cond Res 16: 581–585, 2002.
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- Sadres, E, Eliakim, A, Constantini, N, Lidor, R, and Falk, B. The effect of long-term resistance training on anthropometric measures, muscle strength, and self-concept in pre-pubertal boys. Pediatr Exerc Sci 13: 357–372, 2001.
- Volek, J, Gomez, A, Scheett, T, Sharman, M, French, D, Rubin, M, Ratamess, N, McGuigan, M, and Kraemer,W. Increasing fluid milk intake favorably affects bone mineral density responses to resistance training in adolescent boys. J Am Diet Assoc 103: 1353– 1356, 2003.
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