Fact or Fallacy # 5: Children shouldn’t train with weights? (Part 1)

This post will answer the question of safety and two follow up posts will answer the question of the benefits and the need for strength training with our young whippersnappers as well as how a programme should start.

I thought I should contribute to this debate seen as I work with quite a few young athletes. At the current time, I train a few tennis players under the age of 10, a few more under 13, and a ton of young athletes in as many sports as you can think of under 16!

It’s great work, much of which I do because I feel its important that the kids get the right coaching and develop in the right way rather than doing stupid stuff with a clueless teacher, coach or trainer.

Anyway with that being said, I think there are quite a few questions to answer and I got a bit carried away writing it so decided to split into 3 parts.

The main questions are:

Is using weights with children and adolescents dangerous or harmful to their development?

Do they need it? Are they beneficial? Is there any point in training children with weights?

Are they ready for strength training? And what should they start out with?

But let’s start with…

Is resistance training safe to use with children and adolescents?

This one really gets me going….I can’t count how many individuals be they parents, trainers, even S&C coaches who have said to me that children (as in pre-puberty) and adolescents (as in during/post-puberty) shouldn’t start with weights until 16, 18 or some other random number for that matter.

Well if that’s the case then they shouldn’t be playing sports either as statistics have shown that supervised weight training is safer than nearly all sports when it comes to injuries per 1000 hours of playing and there are a couple of studies that illustrate this. The highlights of which are shown below:

In a 21 month study, taken from the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association’s position stand on youth resistance training, which was carried out on males aged 9 and 10 who were engaged in regular strength training programme there was one injury reported of which the details are shown below:

“… on one occasion the bar slid and fell on the thighs of one of the subjects following a lift (clean). The child complained of transient non-specific pain in the anterior thigh and sat out for about 5 min. He returned to train within the same session when the pain was resolved and had no further complications. Therefore, it was felt that no additional medical evaluation was required. The calculated injury rate was 0.055/100 participant-hours.” (Sadres et al., 2002 p 363).

A study conducted by Brian Hamill of the British Weight Lifting Association reported injury rates in a variety of recreational sports per 100 participant-hours. The results are shown below:

_ resistance (strength) training 0.0035

_ weight lifting for sport 0.0017

_ soccer 6.20

_ basketball 0.3

_ football 0.1

(Relative safety of weight lifting and weight training B. Hamill Journal of Strength and Conditioning 1994).

Both of these studies clearly show that supervised weight training is safe for youngsters to engage in regularly in terms of immediate injuries, but what about the long term effects of strength training with children?

Long term effects?

In November of 2006 an evidence based review paper (Clin J Sport Med. 2006 Nov;16(6):478-87. Weight training in youth-growth, maturation, and safety: an evidence-based review. Malina RM.) concluded:

Experimental training protocols with weights and resistance machines and with supervision and low instructor/participant ratios are relatively safe and do not negatively impact growth and maturation of pre- and early-pubertal youth.

The American academy of pediatrics states in their position stand on youth resistance training (available here) that

‘A limited number of case reports have raised concern about epiphyseal injuries in the wrist and apophyseal injuries in the spine from weight lifting in skeletally immature individuals. Such injuries are uncommon and are believed to be largely prevent- able by avoiding improper lifting techniques, maxi- mal lifts, and improperly supervised lifts.

Strength training programs do not seem to ad- versely affect linear growth and do not seem to have any long-term detrimental effect on cardiovascular health. Young athletes with hypertension may experience further elevation of blood pressure from the isometric demands of strength training.’

They also go on to say that:

‘Strength training programs for preadolescents and adolescents can be safe and effective if proper techniques and safety precautions are followed.’

The RFU (rugby football Union) position stand also states that Strength training may enhance bone development in younger children (Mackelvie et al, British Journal of Sports Medicine 36 2002).

So in terms of safety I think that addresses the question of strength training with youth populations. In summary:

–       Supervision is key! Do not let youngsters lift weights on their own just as they wouldn’t play rugby on their own.

–       Weight training is one of the safest activities for kids to engage in with supervision. Safer than the majority of sports out there              in fact.

–       There are no long term negative effects of weight training.

The next questions are do they need it, and what are the benefits?

This will be discussed in the follow up post so stay tuned!


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