Growing Up Strong: A Fresh Look at Resistance Training in Youth
By Cathleen Kronemer
"Go out and play ~ just be home for dinner!"
Does that sound familiar? It definitely should. For many of us, that phrase was as common as "Good morning" when we were growing up The world was a safer place, and our moms were forever telling us to go outside and play, get some fresh air, head to the playground, ride our bikes ~~ essentially, get out there and Be A Verb!!! Get moving!!! It was pure common sense then, and today it has been substantiated by countless research studies as well as anecdotal evidence. Kids need to be active in order to have healthy bodies and minds.
So many young people today are involved in a variety of sports, everything from soccer and baseball to gymnastics and ballet. It is key for us as parents and caregivers to value the importance of physical activity, and ideally to model such behavior as regularly as possible. Cardiovascular exercise will not only keep one's heart healthy, but it does wonders for developing bodies physically as well.
There seems, however, to be one missing component in today's array of sports being offered to our young people, and that is resistance training. Once thought to be the sole arena of male bodybuilders, weightlifting and resistance training have recently become almost mainstream, as we find more and more female competitors in bodybuilding shows, as well as Teen Divisions in many organizations. In fact, recent research has shown that resistance training can have a very favorable impact on children as young as 6 years old.
For decades, it was widely believed that resistance training would damage the epiphyseal plate of children, or even stunt the statural growth of young athletes. As a result, resistance training was shunned as part of any regular Physical Education programs. However, as published in 2001 by The American Academy of Pediatrics, there is now qualified acceptance in the medical community in favor of strength training for young people.
According to research studies conducted in the mid-to-late 1990's by C. Blimkie and A. Faigenbaum, and published in the journal, Strength and Conditioning, children can increase muscular strength above and beyond that accompanying growth and maturation by participating in a well-designed resistance training program. Employing various combinations of repetitions, sets, free weights, and child-sized weight machines, strength gains of anywhere from 30% to 40% have been observed in children over the course of an 8-12 week program. In fact, during the preadolescence years, there seems to be no evidence of any difference in muscular strength between boys and girls.
In keeping within guidelines set forth by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, it is important to remember that a young person about to embark on a resistance training program should have the emotional maturity to accept and follow directions from a qualified coach or trainer, in order to help prevent injury. When starting such a program, it is advisable to underestimate the child's abilities, and to start with a weight that can be lifted for 10-15 repetitions. It is crucial to note here that adult training and guidelines should never be imposed on young children, no matter how big or strong they may appear.
In addition to increasing muscular strength, research has shown that an appropriate resistance program may also increase bone density, improve body composition, and even lower blood lipid levels. It also appears that young athletes who participate in resistance training programs are less likely to drop out of sports due to frustration or failure than those who do not.
While cardiovascular activities and sports are definitely needed for today's youth, especially in the face of rising childhood obesity concerns, it is also of great value to include a safe resistance training program in a young athlete's repertoire. There is no need to be creating the next generation of "Arnold" bodies, just healthy, well-adjusted, strong young people who can create a lifelong habit of physical health!!!!
About the Author
Cathleen Kronemer has a B.S in Microbiology, and is a Certified Group Exercise Instructor and Personal Trainer. She has worked in the Fitness industry for over 21 years. In her free time, Cathleen is a competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She resides in St. Louis, MO. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.