We are frequently asked, “Is my child too young/old enough for strength training?”
Research now agrees and supports that resistance exercise can be safe and effective for children. If the child is old enough to listen, pay attention, and follow instructions, he or she is probably capable of participating in a strength training program. However, it’s important to remember that children are not miniature adults, and should not be trained, as such.
Although preadolescent boys and girls have the potential to significantly improve their strength with resistance training, these gains are less attributable to muscle hypertrophy (growth) and more so to neurological (neuromuscular) factors — improving motor unit coordination, recruitment, and firing.
Potential benefits of strength training for children include increased muscular strength and endurance; improved anatomic and psychosocial parameters; reduced injuries in sports and recreation activities; improved motor skills and sport performance; positive effect on bone density.
Parents should be educated about the benefits and risks of competitive sports and should understand the importance of general fitness for the young athlete.
Children should participate in a year-round strength and conditioning program to enhance fitness, strength, and flexibility. The program should vary in volume and intensity throughout the year and meet the specific needs of each athlete.
The nutritional status of young athletes should be monitored to ensure that their diets are adequate.
Youth sport coaches should participate in educational programs to learn more about strength and conditioning, sport skills, safety rules, equipment, the psychology of children, and the physiology of growth and development.
A competent — qualified and experienced — strength and conditioning professional can assist in the development of youth strength training programs that stress quality instruction and appropriate rate of progression.
YOUTH RESISTANCE TRAINING GUIDELINES (adapted from Faigenbaum et al. 1996)
- Each child should understand the benefits and risks associated with resistance training.
- Competent and caring fitness professionals should supervise training sessions.
- The exercise environment, including equipment, should be safe and free of hazards.
- Appropriate warm-up should be performed before resistance training.
- Carefully monitor each child’s tolerance to the exercise stress.
- Begin with light loads to allow appropriate adjustments to be made.
- Increase the resistance/intensity gradually (e.g., 5% -10%) as strength improves.
- Depending on individual needs and goals, one to three sets of 6 to 15 repetitions on a variety of single- and multi-joint exercises can be performed.
- Advance multi-joint exercises, such as modified cleans, pulls, and presses, may be incorporated into the program, provided that appropriate loads are used and the focus remains of proper form.
- Two to three nonconsecutive training sessions per week are recommended.
- When necessary, adult spotters should be nearby to actively assist the child in the event of a failed repetition.
- The resistance training program should be systematically varied throughout the year.
- Children should be encouraged to drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise.