Youth Strength Training, a review of research.
by Jared Bidne
Two of the most frequently asked questions I get from parents about children and strength training are; “Is it safe for kids to lift weights?” and “At what age can they start lifting?” Despite this grossly exaggerated myth, the National Strength Conditioning Association (NSCA), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), exercise physiologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics support the implementation of strength and resistance training programs for young children.
Is it safe for kids to lift weights?
The answer is “YES.” The organizations mentioned above support the implementation of strength and resistance training programs, even for prepubescent children, that are monitored by well-trained adults and take into account the child’s maturity level. A growth plate fracture has not been reported in any youth resistance study that adhered to established training guidelines. Strength and resistance training will not affect growth height, delay or accelerate growth or maturation in boys or girls. Bone scans of children who have done regular lifting reveal a significantly larger bone density than those who do not lift weights. Even 1 rep max testing in children is safe. (3)
* If appropriate training guidelines are followed, regular participation in a youth strength-training program has the potential to increase bone mineral density, improve motor performance skills, enhance sports performance, and better prepare young athletes for the demands of practice and competition.” (2) (3)
* A study of young male powerlifters found that high-intensity resistance training is effective in increasing lumbar spine and whole body bone mineral density. (9) (10)
* With proper supervision, children who participate in a strength training program are not at an increased risk for injury compared to children and youth who do not participate in such a program.(5) (9) 10)
Proper resistance training is incredibly effective at stimulating growth and development! (10) I have trained several athletes boys and girls, that started training at age 9 and have now obtained body heights that are above average. I have even had some kids that were below average in height and weight that are now above average.
At what age can kids start lifting weights?
According to Exercise physiologists and the NSCA there is no minimum age requirement at which children can begin resistance training. Children should have the maturity to follow directions and should be eager to try this type of activity. In general, if children are ready for sport participation, then they are ready for some type of resistance training program. Children as young as 6 years have benefitted from strength training. Improvements in the long jump, vertical jump, 4o-yd dash, and agility run times have been observed in children who participated in a resistance training program. (10) I track all my athletes at Explosive Mechanics and have their results to back up the research. However, we must remember that children are not adults, their program design should be to introduce the body to the stresses of training and to teach basic technique. After a foundation is established, more advanced training can be introduced and the amount of exercises and the weight lifted can be increased. A certified professional trainer who is familiar with working with children should design a program specific to the needs of the child.
Too much sport not enough training
Today athletes are spending more time participating in various sports or practicing their sport and neglecting training, which helps with sporting performance and injury prevention. As an effect, the incidence of injury in all youth sports has seen a dramatic increase over the past 10 years due to greater sport participation and not enough dedicated training time. Children cannot “play” themselves into shape, because the load and demands of sport activity do not stimulate improved muscle and connective tissue growth and strength. Considerable biomechanical research has shown that the stresses imposed on the body by common sporting activities such as running, jumping, and hitting generally are far greater (by as much as 300%) than those imposed by powerlifting or olympic lifting.
Nevertheless, it is apparent that for young athletes to maintain a physical advantage over their untrained peers, continued training of more than 1 day a week is needed. In one study, after 20 weeks of strength training, maintenance performed once a week was not enough to maintain the strength gains of prepubescent children.
Strength and resistance training can be a safe and effective means of increasing sporting performance and injury prevention for athletes of all ages. Early prepubescent lifting will not stunt a childs growth development or speed up the maturation process. Parents need to find time to get their child into a strength and conditioning program for physical development and if nothing else injury prevention. Any exercise or activity for children have risk as well as benefits. Although strength training injures may occur, the risk can be minimized with appropriate program design and adult supervision. A certified professional trainer who is familiar with working with children should design a program specific to the needs of the child.
1. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Strength, Weight and Power Lifting, and Body Building by Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 1990; 5: 801-803.
2. Faigenbaum, A.D. Strength training for children and adolescents. Clinical Sports Medicine. 2000; 4: 593-619.
3. Faigenbaum, A., W. Westcott, R. La Rosa Loud, and C. Long. Delmonico, and L.
Micheli. Relationship between repetitions and selected percentages for the one
repetition maximum in healthy children. Pediatr. Phys. There. 10:110-113. 1998
4. Faigenbaum, A., W. Westcott, R. La Rosa Loud, and C. Long. The effects of
different resistance training protocols on muscular strength and endurance
development in children. Pediatrics 104:E5. 1999
5. Guy, J.A., Micheli, L.J. Strength training for children and adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. 2000; 1: 29-36.
6. Heinonen, A., Sievanen, H., Kannus, P., Oja, P., Pasanen, M., Vuori, I. High-impact exercise and bones of growing girls: a 9-month controlled trial. Osteoporosis International. 2000; 12: 1010-1017.
7. Malina, R. Physical activity and training: Effects on stature and the adolescent
growth spurt. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 26:759-766. 1994
8. Payne, V.G., Morrow, J.R., Johnson, L., and Dalton, S.N. Resistance training in children and youth: a meta-analysis. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 1997; 1: 80-88.
9. Tsuzuku, S., Ikegami, Y., and Yabe, K. Effects of high-intensity resistance training on bone mineral density in young male powerlifters. Calcified Tissue International. 1998; 4: 283-286.
10. Zatsiorsky M. Vladimir, Kraemer, W. J. Science and Practice of Strength Trainng (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2005.