Should young athletes participate in strength training The debate has included a number of fallacies about damage to growth plates and flexibility, as well as a lack of results until after a child has reached puberty. However, sports medicine science shows that participation in a well-rounded fitness program that includes strength training can improve overall fitness and musculoskeletal health and decrease the incidence of some sports-related injuries by increasing the strength of tendons and ligaments.1
Young athletes, as well as non-athletes, can engage in a fun activity and improve their overall health by participating in a supervised strength-training program. Here are some important guidelines to follow:
- Participate in a properly designed and supervised strength training program led by a qualified professional who can teach proper technique, form, progression of exercises, and safety.
- Strength training should be one small part of a well-rounded fitness program that also includes endurance, flexibility, agility and skill-building exercises.
- Adolescents must have the proper maturity level to follow directions and safety guidelines.
- Adolescents, who are anatomically and physiologically less mature, should follow a different training plan than adults.
- The exercise environment should be safe and free of hazards and all participants should receive instruction regarding proper exercise technique, including controlled movements, safe training procedures and sensible starting weights, and weight room etiquette and safety rules.
- Strength training should be performed 2 to 3 times a week on non-consecutive days. It is critical to develop a regimen with a qualified professional who is knowledgeable about age-related training guidelines.
- Do not expect to see increases in muscle size in prepubescent children, as they lack adequate levels of muscle-building hormones. Instead, the goals should be to improve muscle strength, enhance motor coordination, gain confidence, and learn proper training techniques.
- Use a variety of training programs and equipment, including free weights, medicine balls, or child-size weight machines.
1Dahab KS, McCambridge TM. Strength training in children and adolescents: raising the bar for young athletes Sports Health. 2009 May;1(3):223-6. doi: 10.1177/1941738109334215. PMID: 23015875; PMCID: PMC3445252.
Faigenbaum, A. and Micheli, L. Youth Strength Training. Indianapolis, IN: American College of Sports Medicine; 2017.
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