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A Publication of WTVP

You’ve heard coaches and other parents talk about strength training, but you wonder: can strength training be beneficial for my child? The American Academy of Pediatrics and a long list of health organizations all support strength training for youth—if it’s done properly. Research findings clearly indicate sensible strength training is a safe and effective physical activity for preteen and teenage boys and girls. However, it’s imperative that youth strength training programs be conducted in a carefully structured and closely supervised exercise environment.

It’s important to first define the difference between “strength demonstration” and “strength development.” Strength demonstration is witnessed in the sports of weightlifting and powerlifting. These sports are driven largely by competition, with participants striving to lift maximum weight loads. Strength development is what proper strength training is all about. A carefully designed strength training program consists of exercises to increase muscle strength and endurance and is focused on safety, proper technique, and controlled movements.

“Heavy lifting can put too much strain on young muscles, tendons, and growth plates when proper technique is sacrificed in favor of lifting larger amounts of weight,” said Edward Laskowski, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Mayo Clinic, and co-director of Mayo Clinic’s Sports Medicine Center. However, strength training performed safely helps reduce and manage the aches and pains from growth spurts that can occur during adolescence. Some orthopedic clinics even use strength training to treat children with scoliosis.

Strengthening exercises, when performed with proper techniques and supervision, can provide a young person with the same benefits as an adult. During the normal growth and maturation period, the development of strong muscles, tendons, ligaments, connective tissues, and bones becomes extremely important. In addition, it creates a good fitness habit that lasts a lifetime, along with improved self-esteem and a decreased chance of depression. Depending on the workout environment, there may be an opportunity for socialization, cooperation, and leadership with other youth participants. Strength training also helps kids who have a focused interest in a particular sport. All young athletes can enhance their performance with a strength training program.

Because technique and proper form are so important, children shouldn’t begin strength training until they’re mature enough to accept directions. A good rule of thumb is if your child is old enough to participate in organized sports such as hockey, soccer, or gymnastics, he or she is ready for strength training. The focus of younger kids such as five to seven years old should be learning body awareness and body control, balance, running, jumping, and throwing.

A youth strength training program needs to focus on correct technique; smooth, controlled movements; and the avoidance of maximum poundages. Your child’s strength training program can be tailored according to his or her age, size, skills, and sports interests. If your child shows an interest in strength training, know that it can be a safe and effective activity. If you establish a habit of strength training with good technique early on, your child will likely reap benefits for a lifetime. IBI

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