Educational Article

Strength Training Helps Kids

By Dr. Robert Martin

Once believed to be hazardous strength training for children is receiving endorsements for promoting exercise and reducing injuries. Trends, research, and conventional wisdom about strength training in youth have evolved substantially over the years. Some fitness experts, healthcare practitioners, and researchers, including leading experts, now claim that strength training can boost strength and increase bone density in children. Some also believe that strength training can reduce sports injuries, but research on this possibility is not conclusive. Many of these experts agree, though, that the activity provides another option for getting increasingly out-of-shape and overweight kids to exercise and for preparing their bodies for the rigors of competitive sports seasons.

Strength training in children has come quite a distance over the years, moving from an environment in which healthcare practitioners had virtually prohibited the activity due to concerns over possible damage to growth plates and stunting of growth to arguably being a rather trendy and beneficial form of exercise.

Although strength training has reportedly become more popular in recent years among both adults and children, not everyone is familiar with its definition. Some fitness experts use the phrases “strength training,” “weight training,” and “resistance training” interchangeably to encompass activities including repetitive resistance exercises using items such as hand weights, medicine balls, and elastic bands, as well as exercises that use internal resistance, like sit-ups and squats.

A non-competitive activity strength training’s objectives include increasing strength improving physical conditioning and athleticism, rehabilitating or preventing injury, building stronger bones, and enhancing health status.

Sports medicine practitioners and researchers are careful to differentiate strength, weight, and resistance training from weight lifting power lifting, or competitive Olympic-style lifting, in which the goal is to lift as much weight as possible and to bulk up physically.

Preadolescents and adolescents should avoid competitive weight lifting, power lifting, body building, and maximal lifts until they reach physical and skeletal maturity, according to a policy statement on strength training published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in the journal Pediatrics in June 2001. Postpubertal teenagers’ can start to learn weight lifting at 16, or after puberty.

According to the AAP, strength training can be safe for children if proper technique is used and safety protocols are followed. The American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association also supports this position.

Sports injury – which is the most common cause of musculoskeletal problems in pediatric emergency rooms – can most likely be reduced if children engage is strength training 2-3 times weekly for 6 to 8 weeks prior to sports participation.

Because of this recent change of opinion in the medical community programs and facilities have sprouted up to cater specifically to kids’ fitness and strength training. When evaluating these programs care should be taken to ensure they are properly staffed with knowledgeable individuals and the children are supervised during all workouts. Unsupervised workouts greatly increase the likelihood of injury. With proper supervision injury risk should be minimal.

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