When done properly, strength training won't damage growing bones.
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As with any sport, talk to your doctor before letting your child start a strength-training program. Kids and teens with some medical conditions — such as uncontrolled high blood pressure, seizures, heart problems, and other conditions — need their doctor's OK before they start strength training. Also, your child should be closely supervised and using the right equipment and proper technique.
The best way to learn proper technique is to do the exercises without any weight. When technique is mastered, weight or resistance, if using exercise bands can be added, as long as your child can comfortably do the exercise for 8 to 15 repetitions with good form. Kids should not use machines and equipment designed for adults. Most injuries happen because a child was goofing around and not supervised. Muscle strains are the most common injury associated with strength training.
Some young and professional athletes try anabolic steroids and other performance enhancers to build muscles and improve athletic performance and appearance. Talk to your child about the dangers of using these drugs. In general, kids and teens should tone their muscles using light weights or resistance and a high number of repetitions rather than lifting a heavy load once or twice. In the third phase, teens can get into more advanced strength and conditioning training, but focus should also be placed on socializing, building self-esteem, and developing a regular and consistent workout or sports routine.
Emphasizing the importance of regular activity develops an attitude that will carry over into adulthood and prepare teens to live active and healthy lifestyles. It is crucial to remember that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be used with children because in any age group there will be different talents, abilities and maturation rates.
Benefits of Strength and Conditioning for Youth Athletes
But during Phase 2, you can start to introduce strength training and other more targeted exercises to improve conditioning, movement, and overall fitness. In one study, researchers introduced boys between the ages of 10 and 12 to progressive, Olympic-style lifting, including clean and snatch, as well as basic plyometric exercises.
A control group of boys did more traditional resistance training like bench pressing and squats. They were given fitness tests before starting the experimental exercises and several weeks after. The boys who did lifting and plyometric exercises showed significant improvement in fitness tests such as a countermovement jump, horizontal jump, balance, and meter sprint, as compared to those who did resistance training only.
The control group added more training, too - but their additional training was just more time spent on their usual soccer-specific training. All of the boys were tested before starting the new routine and several weeks after.
Those doing weights and intense conditioning showed significant improvement compared to the control group. They were more flexible, could jump higher, had increased power, and showed greater endurance. IMPORTANT: Strength training, weight lifting, intense conditioning, and plyometric exercises can benefit children, but it must be done progressively and with proper instruction.
The children in these studies were taught proper form, started out lifting light bars only, and were always monitored.
Strength and Conditioning for the Young Athlete
Only when a child has the form down should you add weight and additional sets. When you have a child lifting with good form, you can determine an appropriate weight by testing increasing weights with ten repetitions. He also served as the primary strength and condition coach for some of the post-graduate Olympians that swam at Indiana University.
Currently, Ben is finishing his PhD while serving a clinical faculty member at the University of Louisville, molding the minds that will be the future of strength and conditioning coaches. He also helps support the Olympic Sports side of the Strength and Conditioning Department there as a sports scientist. No pressure big dawg!
When Is It Safe for Children to Start Strength Training?
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An overview for parents and physical therapists
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Global recommendations on physical activity for health. Cohen, D. Acta Paediatrica , 10 , e Beunen, G. Growth and biologic maturation: relevance to athletic performance.
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The young athlete , Armstrong, N. Paediatric exercise science and medicine. Oxford University Press. Branta, C. Age changes in motor skills during childhood and adolescence. Exercise and sport sciences reviews , 12 1 , Parker, D. A cross-sectional survey of upper and lower limb strength in boys and girls during childhood and adolescence.
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Resistance training and youth. Pediatric Exercise Science , 1 4 , Ramsay, J. Strength training effects in prepubescent boys. Medicine and science in sports and exercise , 22 5 , Malina, R.