Strength Training in Kids and Adolescents: Good or Bad?
The age at which children should begin fitness and strength training outside of regular childhood activities such as gym class and soccer is a highly debated topic. It is a polarizing topic of discussion due to parents and child care specialists that are concerned for the children’s health. There are many popularized arguments such as a child’s growth being stunted (“Weight Training,” 2019). This is one of the issues surrounding the topic because it has untrue stereotypes but also real concerns. Two other important views to spotlight is what kind of exercise is acceptable at what age and the effects of early specialization in sports.
The idea of weightlifting stunting a child’s growth is not entirely false but there are assumptions that come with that argument that are not accurate. It has the potential of stunting a child’s growth if the growth plate is injured. This kind of injury is not specific to weightlifting and accounts for 15-30% of all bone injuries in kids (Smith, 2019). Many injuries from weights are due to poor supervision around equipment and incorrect technique (“Weight Training,” 2019). There is a negative connotation associated with strength training unlike with other sports with equal or higher risks. Studies have demonstrated that children can improve strength by 30% to 50% after just 8 to 12 weeks of a well-designed strength-training program (Dahab, K.S., & McCambridge, 2009). A key component of this statement by Dahab et al. (2009) is that it is a well-designed program. This is necessary for the well-being of a child consuming in strength training.
The health of a child is a point of concern for any parent when it comes to activity in which one could get hurt; to reduce the chances of injury occurring, there are some rules that should be followed. The American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, suggests waiting until the child is older than 8 because their balance and coordination is more developed. They also recommend strength training for kids because when done correctly, it can enhance sports performance and increase injury reduction (“Are Weights Safe for Kids,” 2018). Strength and fitness training at a young age with a proper instructor can engrain proper technique which will decrease the chance for injury. Teens can start to increase their weight and do lower repetitions, but younger children are encouraged to do high repetition and low weights. This is essential for preventing injury and muscle strain while promoting the growth of healthy muscles, joints, and bones (Gavin, 2013). There should also be little or no resistance for the strength training, this can be through using body weight. Physical activity is a part of children’s lives every day and there are contested points in any training for any type of sport.
Early specialization in youth sports is intense training in one sport that excludes training in others. This is considered necessary for achieving excellence in certain sports such as gymnastics but detrimental to one’s health as well because it has a linear relationship with exposure to risk of injuries (Jayanthi et al., 2013). This specialization can take away from the development of other areas in one’s body. This is important to recognize because reduction in one area that may not seem vital to one’s sport can affect their health later which overall worsens their sport specialized skills. For example, soccer players do not practice stretching which results in most soccer players having very poor flexibility; this later affects them because they are more susceptible to hamstring and groin injuries which are common in the sport. Strength training allows for a full body workout that advances the well-being and ability of the entire body. Sports specific skills are harder to acquire later in life but not impossible and some are able to gain elite status in the sport as well. In sports such as weight lifting and track and field, the elite athletes starting intense specialized training at a later age than near-elite athletes (Jayanthi, 2013). Strength training provides a good foundation for a broader selection of sports to specialize in at a later age. If one were to specialize in a sport at a young age and acquire certain physical abilities and disabilities for that sport, it may make it more difficult to transition to a different sport later because of physical restriction; this can prevent one from achieving the level of play or skill they desire.
I personally believe that strength training in kids and adolescents is a positive thing when done correctly. It is better to start training at a young age with a proper instructor because it engrains proper technique and increase injury prevention. It keeps kids healthy and promotes a healthy lifestyle for when they are adults. I believe it is best to start doing body weight training around the age of 8 and start moving towards free weight training around the age of 13. After that, around the age of 15, one can start doing powerlifting if they so choose. I began doing lots of body weight training around the age of 8 and I strongly believe that it has helped my health and fitness to this day. I had confidence from being stronger than the boys at school and it promoted my love for fitness. Starting with body weight training also allowed me to focus on technique and I never acquired any injuries from it. I was not taught properly when I started doing weight training which has caused me knee problems. I later found fitness instructors who helped me with technique and injury prevention. This has aided me from developing any more knee and back problems while weightlifting and within my sport. My knee problems that arose from my sport could have been prevented through proper strength training at a younger age.
Strength training in children has many stereotypes and negative connotations attached to it but with proper training and supervision, it can be beneficial in the short and long term. Growth will not be stunted from strength training unless there is damage to the growth plate itself which can happen in any sport. Children participating in strength training should consult a doctor before starting and come up a plan for what kind of training they should be engaging in for their age. There are risks in strength training just like in any sport but many health benefits as well. For example, it allows for a more well-rounded fitness and skill level than early specialization does. Children are at a higher risk than adults for strength training because they are still growing but starting earlier allows for injury prevention and correct technique. Overall, strength training should be treated as any other sport where there are risks, health benefits, rules, and coaches to guide beginners.
Are-Weights-Safe-for-Kids. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2018, from https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/Are-Weights-Safe-for-Kids.aspx
Baker, J. (2003, June). Early Specialization in Youth Sport: A requirement for adult expertise?[PDF]. Research Gate.
Dahab, K. S., & McCambridge, T. M. (2009, May). Retrieved March 16, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3445252/
Gavin, M. L. (Ed.). (2013, August). Strength Training. Retrieved March 16, 2018, from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/strength-training.html
Jayanthi, N., Pinkham, C., Dugas, L., Patrick, B., & LaBella, C. (2013, May). Retrieved March 16, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3658407/
Smith, J. (2018, March 15). Health Check: Should children and adolescents lift weights? Retrieved March 16, 2018, from http://theconversation.com/health-check-should-children-and-adolescents-lift-weights-54888
Weight Training: Risk of Injury. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2018, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/fitness/Pages/Weight-Training-Risk-of-Injury.aspx