Is strength and weight training safe for young athletes?

Is strength and weight training safe for young athletes?

At the start of last year, my young gymnast (tween) was to commence a specific weight training program with her new gymnastics coach. I had to admit that I was a little apprehensive at first. Many parents share various concerns regarding the risks involved with strength training for their kids, in particular, “Is weight training safe for young athletes?”

Will weights damage their growth plates?
Will they injure themselves?
What age is strength training safe to start?

I am happy to say that from our experience, strength and weight training has definitely had a positive impact on my daughter’s strength development and without any injuries.

Is strength and weight training safe for Young Athletes?

What is strength training?

Strength training refers to a systematic program of exercises designed to increase an individual’s ability to exert or resist force. 1 It can also be referred to as resistance training and may involve the use of free weights, weight machines, rubber tubing, medicine balls, resistance bands and other resistance type activities including body weight resistance exercises. It refers to a program of exercises and physical conditioning, which is distinct from the sports of weightlifting, power lifting and body building.

Is strength training safe for kids?

Both my girls have been doing some form of strength and weight training to assist in their sporting performances for some time now. Contrary to some negative commentary that strength training is dangerous for kids or that it can disturb growth plates, strength training can help children and adolescents of all athletic abilities, safely improve their strength and overall health and well-being when performed in a controlled, supervised environment. 2 3 4

Key points to note for safe training

1. Medical clearance.

Young athletes with any pre-existing injuries or medical conditions should get medical clearance before strength training. 5

2. The ability of the child to follow instructions.

To ensure safe training, children must be able to follow instructions, demonstrate balance and have a sense of body awareness in order to adhere to proper technique to ensure injury prevention. There is no minimal age prerequisite but these skills are generally developed by 7 or 8 years of age. 6

3. Qualified instruction and tailored training program.

Strength programs should be set by a qualified instructor and accordingly tailored not only to the age and maturity of the athlete (to follow instructions) but also to the current physical strength and developmental ability of the athlete. 7

4. Qualified adult supervision.

Proper technique and strict supervision by a qualified instructor are critical safety components in any strength-training program involving young athletes. 8

5. Explosive and rapid lifting of weights is not recommended.

For young athletes, safe technique may be difficult to maintain and body tissues may be stressed too abruptly. 9

6. Limit progressive load, moderate intensity, and no maximal lifts.

Progressive overload refers to the practice of continually increasing the stress placed on the muscle as it becomes capable of producing greater force or has more endurance. The Australian Institute of Sport suggests the 10% rule here, that is, limiting increases in training frequency, intensity, and duration to no more than 10% per week. In addition, the intensity of training should be moderate (approximately 10-15 reps), and that maximal lifts should be avoided. 10

7. The exercise equipment should be appropriate and the training environment should be safe and free of hazards.

Many of the reported injuries relating to weight training are associated with the use of weight training machines which are usually built for adults and accommodate only larger weight increases, both of which may be inappropriate for young athletes.

Benefits of strength training for young athletes

1. Increases strength.

11 12
Young athletes can improve their strength by 30% to 50% after just 8 to 12 weeks of a well-designed strength training program. 13 Prepubertal children have also been shown to have a more significant increase in strength compared to pubertal athletes and young adult groups. 14

2. Increased bone mineral density.

15 16
Strength training is particularly important for young girls, as females are at an increased risk for osteoporosis, a degenerative bone disease. Greater gains in bone mass can be made in girls who have not yet had their first period than in those who have already started menstruating. 17

3. Improves motor performance skills and can enhance athletic performance.

18 19 20 21

4. Can reduce the risk of injuries by strengthening muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons.

22
Specific strength training of muscle groups that are subjected to overuse in certain sports may also assist in the prevention of injury. 23 24 25

Risks involved with weight training

Traditionally, key concerns of strength and weight training for young athletes centre around injury and impact on growth.

What is the level of injury risk?

• Participation in almost any type of sport or recreational activity carries a risk of injury. A well-supervised strength training program has no greater inherent risk than that of any other youth sport or activity. 26
• The case reports of injuries related to strength training, including growth plate fractures and lower back injuries, are primarily due to the misuse of equipment, inappropriate weight, improper technique, or lack of qualified adult supervision. 27
• With proper supervision, youth who participate in a strength training program are not at an increased risk for injury compared to children and youth who do not participate in such a program.28

Impact on growth plates

• Appropriate strength training programs have no apparent adverse effect on linear growth, growth plates or the cardiovascular system in healthy young athletes. 29 30 31 32
• Proper resistance training is effective at stimulating growth and development, not a hindrance to it. 33
• Some degree of bone stress via resistance training may encourage bone growth. 34
• Resistance training increases muscle strain, strain rate, and compression, which are all important in bone modeling. 35

Checklist to get your young athlete started in strength training

1. Assess the current level of ability in your child’s current sport. Children must have a certain level of skill proficiency in their sport before embarking on a disciplined strength-training program for the strength to have some potential value. 36
2. Assess any current injuries and get medical clearance.
3. Determine the reason for the strength and weight training (eg. increase strength, enhance performance or rehabilitation). Then seek out the appropriate advice to obtain a strength and weight program by a qualified instructor after consultation together with your athlete. Depending on your athlete’s goals, training may also involve a combination of other techniques such as plyometrics and flexibility.
4. Ensure a safe training environment under qualified adult supervision at all times.

References

Show 36 footnotes

  1. Avery D. Faigenbaum, Ed.D. (Chair) and Lyle J. Micheli, M.D., FACSM, American College of Sports Medicine, Current Comment Fact Sheet on Youth Strength Training
  2. Avery D. Faigenbaum, Ed.D. (Chair) and Lyle J. Micheli, M.D., FACSM, American College of Sports Medicine, Current Comment Fact Sheet on Youth Strength Training
  3. Katherine Stabenow Dahab, MD* and Teri Metcalf McCambridge, MD, 2009 Strength Training in Children and Adolescents Raising the Bar for Young Athletes? FAAP Sports Health. May; 1(3): 223–226.
  4. Davide Barbieri and Luciana Zaccagni, 2013 May 2013 May; Strength training for children and adolescents: benefits and risks. Coll Antropol. 37 Suppl 2:219–225 Review
  5. Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, Strength Training by Children and Adolescents, “Pediatrics” Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, April 2008, Volume 121/Volume 4
  6. Katherine Stabenow Dahab, MD* and Teri Metcalf McCambridge, MD, 2009 Strength Training in Children and Adolescents Raising the Bar for Young Athletes? FAAP Sports Health. May; 1(3): 223–226.
  7. Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, Strength Training by Children and Adolescents, “Pediatrics” Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, April 2008, Volume 121/Volume 4
  8. Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, Strength Training by Children and Adolescents, “Pediatrics” Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, April 2008, Volume 121/Volume 4
  9. Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, Strength Training by Children and Adolescents, “Pediatrics” Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, April 2008, Volume 121/Volume 4
  10. Narelle Sibte – Strength & Conditioning Coach, Australian Institute of Sport “Weight training – Pre-adolescent strength training – Just do it!”
  11. Falk B, Tenenbaum G. The effectiveness of resistance training in children: a meta-analysis.Sports Med.1996;22 (3):176– 186
  12. Payne VG, Morrow JR Jr, Johnson L, Dalton SL. Resistance training in children and youth: a meta-analysis. Res Q Exerc Sport.1997;68 (1):80– 88
  13. Katherine Stabenow Dahab, MD* and Teri Metcalf McCambridge, MD, 2009 Strength Training in Children and Adolescents Raising the Bar for Young Athletes? FAAP Sports Health. May; 1(3): 223–226.
  14. Pfeiffer R., Francis R. 1986. Effects of Strength Training on Muscle Development in prepubescent, Pubescent, and Postpubescent Males. The Physician and Sportsmedicine. 14:9:134-143.
  15. Conroy BP, Kraemer WJ, Maresh CM, et al. Bone mineral density in elite junior Olympic weightlifters. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1993;25:1103-1109 [PubMed
  16. Faigenbaum, A.D. Strength training for children and adolescents. Clinical Sports Medicine. 2000; 4: 593-619
  17. Heinonen, A., Sievanen, H., Kannus, P., Oja, P., Pasanen, M., Vuori, I. High-impact exercise and bones of growing girls: a 9-month controlled trial. Osteoporosis International. 2000; 12: 1010-1017.
  18. Faigenbaum, A.D. Strength training for children and adolescents. Clinical Sports Medicine. 2000; 4: 593-619
  19. Blanksby B, Gregor J. Anthropometric, strength, and physiological changes in male and female swimmers with progressive resistance training. Aust J Sci Med Sport. 1981;1:3-6
  20. Behringer M, Vom Heede A, Matthews M, et al. Effects of strength training on motor performance skills in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis. Pediatr Exerc Sci 2011;23:186–206.
  21. Mikkola J, Rusko H, Nummela A, et al. Concurrent endurance and explosive type strength training improves neuromuscular and anaerobic characteristics in young distance runners. Int J Sports Med 2007;28:602–11.
  22. Faigenbaum A, Myer G. Resistance training among young athletes: safety, efficacy and injury prevention effects. Br J Sports Med 2010;44:56–63.
  23. Neuromuscular and biomechanical characteristic changes in high school athletes: a plyometric versus basic resistance program. Lephart SM, Abt JP, Ferris CM, Sell TC, Nagai T, Myers JB, Irrgang JJ Br J Sports Med. 2005 Dec; 39(12):932-8.
  24. Dominguez R. Shoulder pain in age group swimmers. In: Erikkson B, Furberg B, editors. eds. Swimming Medicine IV. Baltimore, MD: University Park Press; 1978:105-109
  25. Hejna WF, Resenberg A, Buturusis DJ, Krieger A. The prevention of sports injuries in high school students through strength training. Natl Strength Coaches Assoc J. 1982;4:28-31
  26. Faigenbaum AD, Kraemer WJ, Cahill, et al. Youth resistance training: Position statement paper and literature review. J Strength Cond Res. 1996;18:62
  27. Katherine Stabenow Dahab, MD* and Teri Metcalf McCambridge, MD, 2009 Strength Training in Children and Adolescents Raising the Bar for Young Athletes? FAAP Sports Health. May; 1(3): 223–226.
  28. Guy, J.A., Micheli, L.J. Strength training for children and adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. 2000; 1: 29-36.
  29. Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, Strength Training by Children and Adolescents, “Pediatrics” Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, April 2008, Volume 121/Volume 4
  30. Faigenbaum, A.D. Strength training for children and adolescents. Clinical Sports Medicine. 2000; 4: 593-619
  31. Ramsay JA, Blimkie CJ, Smith K, Garner S, MacDougall JD, Sale DG. Strength training effects in prepubescent boys. Med Sci Sports Exerc.1990;22 (5):605– 614
  32. Weltman A, Janney C, Rians CB, et al. The effects of hydraulic resistance strength training in pre-pubertal males. Med Sci Sports Exerc.1986;18 (6):629– 638
  33. Fleck, S.J., Kraemer, W. J. Strength Training for Young Athletes. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1993.
  34. Weight training – Pre-adolescent strength training – Just do it! Narelle Sibte – Strength & Conditioning Coach, Australian Institute of Sport
  35. Fleck, S & Kraemer, W (1997) Designing resistance training programs. Human Kinetics, USA.
  36. Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, Strength Training by Children and Adolescents, “Pediatrics” Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, April 2008, Volume 121/Volume 4

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