Fact or Fallacy # 5: Children shouldn’t train with weights? (Part 2)
Firstly, if you missed the previous post on youth strength training check it out here. It lays out the efficacy and safety of youth strength training and you should read it before reading this.
Do they need it?
Although I would say that young people who want to improve sports performance will generally benefit more from practicing and perfecting skills of the sport than from resistance training. In the days of sports being taken extremely seriously from a young age, the value of strength training to the young performer is increasingly important.
Take the early specialization high skill sports such as tennis, badminton, soccer and many more.
Rightly or wrongly participants are often undertaking 10 or more hours of one sport per week, and obviously becoming very skilled at these sports. However, the time spent developing sport specific actions also creates asymmetries and imbalances meaning that injuries occur frequently in these juniors.
I am not in favour of early specialization, my view is that children should play as many sports as they can and I would hope to go down this path with my own kids. But it appears that I’m in the minority, and these injuries are occurring in some of these sports.
If you are working with these sports as a trainer or S&C coach you really have to take the line of it is unethical to not be strengthening the key areas to give these kids a chance to continue playing.
On top of that you have a more sedentary youth population nowadays. Its all well and good saying play sports but are they really going to do it? Parents look to trainers and S&C coaches to provide that physical stimulus to their children as they won’t get it elsewhere. It is a niche that is growing and provides fun and challenging work for us coaches.
To be honest, even in the late specialization sports such as rugby union the argument is exactly same, just a little more delayed.
Here’s a quote from the RFU position statement of youth strength training:
“Young rugby players need a long term, comprehensive skills and conditioning programme that includes well planned and supervised strength training from an early age. This is desirable for all young players who might eventually play club rugby as adults; it is essential for young players who aspire (realistically) to play at the elite level.
Professional rugby players are increasingly large and powerful. England international forwards and backs in 2003 weighed, on average, 109 kg and 90 kg respectively, compared with 100 kg and 83 kg for their counterparts in 1991. A greater proportion of this additional weight in modern players is lean body mass, so more force is generated in the collisions. (England Rugby Injury and Training Audit 2002-04).
In order to compete in the professional game a young player must often become bigger, nearly always stronger and definitely more resistant to injury through the use of a strength training programme. Most players in England will not have been introduced to this type of training until 16 – in many cases 18 – years old. The player is then often “fast tracked” through a strength programme in order to prepare him for the rigours of the adult game. This is potentially injurious to the player if the necessary foundation work has not been done to enable him to tolerate the loads:
And young athletes are making the same mistake so many did in the 1950s and 60s.
They attempt to “play themselves into shape”. With high sport demands and forces acting on young bones, ligaments and tendons, sport related injuries have started to proliferate. Often injury is due to being physically unprepared to participate. Optimal resistance (strength) training may in fact be key to the prevention of injuries in high school athletes.
By the early 90s people realized young athletes needed to prepare their bodies as they were not able to meet the demands and resistance (strength) training may be of help in preparation and injury prevention”
(Michelis et al 1986 Paediatric and adolescent sports injury: Exercise and Sports Science Review, and Metcalf & Roberts 1993 Strength training and the immature athlete: An overview Paediatric Nursing 19 (4), quoted in Strength Training for Young Athletes p3 Fleck and Kraemer)
So I think that you need to accept that in many cases it is a required method of training. Youth sports these days are extremely physically demanding and place great stresses on our childrens bodies. We know it is safe, there is astrong need for it. But what benefits can we expect to gain from prescribing S&C work for children and adolescents?
What benefits can be expected?
In a study conducted on junior weightlifters is was found that Bone mineral content of junior Olympic weight lifters was greater than those who do not lift (Convoy et al Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise 25 1993, Virvidakis et al International Journal of Sports Medicine 11 1990).
Peer-reviewed research indicates that strength training may be beneficial to young athletes
_ the prevention of injuries
_ improved body composition
_ improved sports performance due to increased strength, power and muscular endurance
3 studies (reference shown below) show the benefits of resistance training in terms of strength gain and injury prevention. In preadolescents, proper resistance training can enhance strength without concomitant muscle hypertrophy. Such gains in strength can be attributed to neuromuscular “learning,” in which training in- creases the number of motor neurons that will fire with each muscle contraction.
It is clear that significant benefits can be gained through incorporating a progressive strength development programme with young athletes. The question is how? How do we put together the sessions? How do we know when to progress?
This is the topic for the final post in this series on youth strength training.
Kraemer WJ, Fry AC, Frykman PN, Conroy B, Hoffman J. Resistance
training and youth. Pediatr Exerc Sci. 1989;1:336–350 7.
Ozmun JC, Mikesky AE, Surburg PR. Neuromuscular adaptations following prepubescent strength training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1994;26: 510 –514
Ramsay JA, Blimkie CJ, Smith K, Garner S, MacDougall J, Sale DG. Strength training effects in prepubescent boys. Issues and controversies. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1990;22:605–614