More and more, coaches and parents are asking the question, “Is it safe for my child to start exercising?” This article is designed to shed some light on the importance and the benefits of youth strength training. First and foremost, it is important that we define two terms that will be frequently used throughout this article. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) defines youth as any child who has not yet reached, or is going through physical maturity. That being said, it is important to remember that not all children advance through puberty at the same time or at the same rate.
Secondly, strength training, or commonly known as ‘resistance training,’ is defined as a specialized form of conditioning that is used to increase an individual’s ability to produce or resist force. Strength training uses the principle of gradual overload on muscles, bones, tendons, etc., in order to enhance the production and resistance of larger forces. It is also important to remember that strength training is a tool that can help enhance sport performance through improved strength and motor control.
In recent times, increased concerns have been noted that children and teenagers could suffer a higher risk of injury through strength training done by free weights, exercise machines, elastic bands and the body’s own resistance. However, it has been shown that the risk of injury from strength training is much less than any other field sport or other type of physical activity. In fact, professionals in the field of exercise science, state that strength training at a young age does provide benefits like increased bone density, decreased body fat, increased athletic performance and can actually reduce the rate of sport related injuries.
With that said there are some major benefits that a young athlete will experience while engaging in the regular use of a structured strength program. When participating in a structured strength program, a young athlete may see a vast improvement in overall strength and coordination. By performing certain exercises such as the push up, or the dumb bell bench press, an athlete will build muscle and strength in the surrounding joints, bones, and ligaments. A young athlete will also see a vast improvement in muscle endurance. Improved muscular endurance is extremely important for a young athlete, because it will delay the rate of fatigue which may have a direct impact on the overall outcome of a game or competition.
It is very important to remember that the involvement in strength training will aid in building strong bones, muscles and joints. Because of this, an athlete will also sustain improvements in bone density, motor control, and overall health. That being said, by incorporating physical activity and a structured strength and conditioning program into an athlete’s daily routine, parents and coaches may soon see an improvement in their child’s on field performance. The regular participation in physical activity and strength training will also decrease an athlete’s risk for obesity by controlling weight, building lean muscle and reducing body fat. Strength training can assist with the prevention of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, anxiety, and depression. Last but not least, training properly will not only improve performance and assist in the reduction of injuries, but will also enhance self-confidence, self-esteem, and body image. With a well-designed strength and conditioning program, parents and coaches can teach youth athletes how to properly train both safely and effectively with confidence. The resulting confidence and self-esteem can help athletes not only in their sport, but in all avenues of life for many years to come.
Research conducted in recent years clearly demonstrates that regular participation in a youth strength training program can offer observable health benefits to both boys and girls. In fact, one aim of The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is to increase the number of children who regularly participate in muscle and bone strengthening activities.
To summarize, the belief that strength training is unsafe for children is simply not true. However, strength training is a specific method of physical activity that requires professional supervision, appropriate muscle overload, and proper recovery between sessions. Last but not least, when designing strength training programs for youth athletes, it is important to remember that the end goal of each athlete will vary. Teaching individuals about their bodies, and advocating safe and effective training procedures are extremely important. Ultimately, providing an exciting and fun training program that gives athletes a more positive attitude toward physical activity and life in general is equally as important.
Joseph E. Figurelli