As you can see from the title of the post, this topic has to do with THE ultimate negative connotation that we see in our profession. THE one question we get asked time and time again by parents of the youth that we train: “should my child really be lifting weights? What about stunting their growth? I really don’t feel comfortable seeing them lift, shouldn’t they just be doing conditioning?”. And while we love interacting with parents and coaches, it’s time for this particular question (and all of it’s forms) to be laid to rest once and for all…
One thing that has always baffled me (in my short, but expansive career thus far) is the negativity surrounding strength training for youth. Parents are the first ones to sign their child up for leisure activities, whether that’s gymnastics, dance, basketball, soccer, hockey, baseball, lacrosse, football, figure skating, track and field etc. without thinking twice, but the minute strength training is suggested a panicked frenzy sets in like Y2K.
Did you know that every time we jump or sprint, we are feeling the equivalent of 6 to 8 times our body weight transferring through our joints. That means every time your child jumps for a rebound, works on that elusive triple lutz, lands after a headed ball in soccer, performs their best long jump attempt at the grade school track meet (all of which you are in the stands cheering on), jumps over the fence with their buddies, or climbs and jumps out of the neighbours tree, 8 times their body weight is being absorbed by their joints. While this should be enough to convince most parents that these forces far exceed anything that will happen in a gym setting with their child, I will dive a little bit deeper to make my point extra clear.
Scientific Research Support
From a scientific research background, there is a myriad of research articles published in recent years that support the use of resistance and strength training in youth populations.
Strength training is not only a safe activity but it can be useful to prevent injuries that may occur during competitive play
- “Training regimens that incorporated resistance training into preseason and in-season conditioning reduced injury risk factors and anterior cruciate ligament injuries in female athletes” (Myer et al, 2009).
- Hejna et al. reported that young athletes who included resistance training as part of their exercise regimen demonstrated decreased injuries and recovered from injuries with less time spent in rehabilitation when compared with their teammates.
Strength training in youth athletes promotes mental health and altered perceptions towards fitness
- Faigenabum and Bradley listed the potential benefits of resistance training for young athletes to range from increased muscle strength and power to enhancement of mental health as well as a stimulation of positive attitude that can foster a lifelong activity of resistance training.
Strength training has numerous benefits in children as long as proper coaching progressions are made
- Unfortunately, there are fitness facilities who simply throw children under a bar and cheer them on without ensuring proper technique, progressions and safety. Strength training is only detrimental if the coaching is subpar. At Redline Conditioning, we take pride in providing proper progressions for every exercise we do, and we never settle for a “one-size-fits-all” approach. If your child needs a regression or an individualized exercise, we take pride in providing that to them.
To reduce the occurrence of nonaccidental injuries in children and adolescents, an emphasis should be placed on safe equipment use and perfecting proper technique. If the athlete is allowed to perform the exercise maneuvers improperly at low resistance levels, then the risk of injury will be amplified as resistance is increased. To improve exercise techniques, instructors should give continuous and immediate feedback to the young athlete, both during and after each exercise bout
Adults are more likely to get injured during strength training than children
- There is an increased risk of joint sprain and muscle strain in adults during strength training than in children. Younger children tend to sustain more accidental injuries, such as pinching a finger or dropping a weight, that is directly related to the maturity level of the child and their ability to closely follow directions.
Faigenbaum and colleagues demonstrated that with appropriate supervision children can be safely tested and trained even with applied maximum effort resistance.
Support from the National Strength and Conditioning Association
1. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program is relatively safe for youth.
2. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program can enhance the muscular strength and power of youth.
3. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program can improve the cardiovascular risk profile of youth.
4. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program can improve motor skill performance and may contribute to enhanced sports performance of youth.
5. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program can increase a young athlete’s resistance to sports-related injuries.
6. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program can help improve the psychosocial well-being of youth.
7. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program can help promote and develop exercise habits during childhood and adolescence.
The Growth Plate Controversy
Many parents that we run into are still under the misconception that strength training damages growth plates and will affect their child’s growth. This old school mentality has since been reversed thanks to support from recent research.
Almost every bone in the body matures at a different rate. For example:
- The femur (thigh) isn’t fully mature until age 18-20
- The tibia (shin) isn’t fully mature until ages 16-18
- The humerus (upper arm) isn’t fully mature until age 16-20
- The radius (forearm) isn’t fully mature until age 18-20
- The clavicle (collarbone) isn’t fully mature until age 22-25
- The scapula (shoulder blade) isn’t fully mature until age 22
Does that mean because the tibia isn’t developed until age 16-18, that you aren’t going to allow your child to kick a soccer ball until last year of high school? Or how about the scapula that doesn’t mature until age 22, are you going to prevent your “child prodigy tennis star” from picking up his racket until he turns 22? Rhetorical question, I know.
The point I am trying to make is that the demands of your child’s sport and the consequent forces they produce (collisions, throwing, jumping, traumatic falls) far exceed any force ever seen in a gym setting (did you know the internal rotation of the humerus during throwing is the fastest motion in all of sports? And you’re concerned about your child learning a proper hip hinge technique with a less-than-moderately loaded kettlebell swing, in an environment where progressions and overload are gradually applied to coincide with their improved confidence in the movement?!)
Children walk into arenas carrying loaded hockey bags twice their size, slide into home plate, and jump off of playgrounds during recess. If anything, strength training should be a pre-requisite BEFORE completing those activities, as a means of developing neuromuscular support to redistribute force to prevent injury.
Allow us to do our jobs. Our goal is not to hurt your child in the gym, but rather reduce their risk of injury for everything else they do throughout their day. Properly programmed strength training is not the enemy, it’s the best friend who always has your back.
Myer, G. (2009). Youth Versus Adult “Weightlifting” Injuries Presenting to United States Emergency Rooms: Accidental Versus Nonaccidental Injury Mechanisms. Journal of Strength and Conditioning.