In the past, there was a commonly held belief that strength training is harmful to the growing skeleton. Fortunately, there is now good scientific evidence to show that strength training is both safe and beneficial for young bodies, as long as the following guidelines are observed:
- Proper technique and appropriate equipment are used
- There is supervision by a qualified adult
- Starting weight is low and progression is gradual
- Olympic lifts, power lifts and single repetition maximum effort lifts are not allowed
The proven health benefits of strength training are the same for children as for adults. Well-designed strength training programs have been shown to improve muscle strength and coordination, increase bone density, promote weight loss, improve body composition, lower cholesterol levels and enhance self-esteem. There is also now evidence demonstrating that specifically-designed programs can reduce the risk of certain knee injuries and improve athletic performance. One study even reported that children participating in strength training programs showed an increased readiness to perform household chores and homework.
Some parents are concerned that strength training will cause their child to develop bulky muscles. The hormones responsible for increasing muscle size are not present until puberty. Without these hormones around to stimulate muscle growth, preadolescents simply do not have the capacity to increase their muscle size in response to strength training.
However, studies have demonstrated significant improvements in muscle strength in preadolescents participating in strength training programs. This is attributed to neuromuscular adaptation, rather than increased muscle size.
When to Begin Training
As soon children are ready for organized sports, they are ready for strength training. This age can vary from child to child, but for the majority, this occurs between ages 6 and 8. If they can understand and follow instructions, they're ready.
There are many types of strength training programs to choose from. Some programs are designed for general fitness, while others aim to improve athletic performance in a specific sport. There are also programs that focus specifically on injury prevention. For more information on how to find the right program for your child, consult your pediatric sports medicine specialist.