Why it is important to encourage young people to be physically active.
Not only does a sedentary lifestyle early in life appear to track into adulthood, a physically active lifestyle during childhood and adolescence may help to prevent many chronic diseases later in life. It has been recommended that children and adolescents be physically active on all, or most, days of the week, as part of play, games, sports, work, transportation, recreation, physical education or planned exercise. Strength training is one aspect of exercise and fitness which can be very beneficial to kids and adolescents.
What is Strength Training?
Strength-training programs may include the use of free weights, weight machines, elastic tubing, or an athlete’s own body weight. It is used to increase our muscles capacity to transmit force. The amount and type of resistance used and the frequency of resistance exercises are determined by specific program goals.
Is it safe?
Strength training has proven to be a safe and effective method of conditioning for adults. Research into the effects of strength exercise on children and adolescents has increased in recent years, and despite earlier beliefs that strength training was inappropriate or dangerous for young weight trainers, the safety and effectiveness of youth strength training are now well documented. Studies have shown that appropriate strength-training programs have no apparent adverse effect on linear growth (stunted growth), growth plates, or the cardiovascular system.
What are the benefits?
In addition to the obvious goal of getting stronger, strength-training programs may be undertaken to try to improve sports performance and prevent injuries, rehabilitate injuries, and/or enhance long-term health. Strength training has been shown to have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular fitness, reducing body fat, bone strength and mental health.
What are the risks?
Most injuries occur on home equipment with unsafe behavior and unsupervised settings. Injury rates in settings with strict supervision and proper technique are lower than those that occur in other sports or general recess play at school.
Because balance and postural control skills mature to adult levels by 7 to 8 years of age, it seems logical that strength programs need not start before achievement of those skills.
How should it be done?
- Low-resistance exercises until proper technique is perfected. When 8 to 12 repetitions can be performed, it is reasonable to add weight in 10% increments.
- Increasing the repetitions of lighter resistance may be performed to improve endurance strength of the muscles in preparation for repetitive-motion sports.
- Exercises should include all muscle groups, including the muscles of the core, and should be performed through the full range of motion at each joint.
- Workouts should be at least 20 to 30 minutes long, take place 2 to 3 times per week, and continue to add weight or repetitions as strength improves.
- Proper technique and strict supervision are mandatory for safety reasons and to reduce the risk for injury.
- Proper 10- to 15-minute warm-up and cool-down periods with appropriate stretching techniques also are recommended.
- Strength programs must be continued in order to maintain strength gains.
- Explosive and rapid lifting of weights during routine strength training is not recommended, because safe technique may be difficult to maintain and body tissues may be stressed too abruptly.
Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists are perfectly positioned to design, monitor and supervise strength programs for children and adolescents.
Contact Advanz Therapies if you’d like to know more!
Pediatrics, April 2008, VOLUME 121 / ISSUE 4, Strength Training by Children and Adolescents, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness
Clinics in Sports Medicine, Volume 19, Issue 4, 1 October 2000, Pages 593-619 (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278591905702283)