Resistance training in adolescence and youth

By Dr Guy Ashburner | September 10, 2019

Resistance training in adolescence and youth

‘Current research indicates that resistance training can be a safe, effective and worthwhile activity for children and adolescents provided that qualified professionals supervise all training sessions and provide age-appropriate instruction on proper lifting procedures and safe training guidelines. Regular participation in a multifaceted resistance training program that begins during the preseason and includes instruction on movement biomechanics may reduce the risk of sports-related injuries in young athletes.” Faigenbaum and Myer

Having strong bones in childhood lays a foundation for bone health throughout life. Children often place 4-6 times their body weight in ground reaction forces, each time they stride during the sprinting motion. Children lift and carry heavy backpacks relative to their body weight. Kids jump out of trees all the time and traumatic (falling) events far exceed any stress on a young athlete’s bones that could possibly be applied in a strength training setting. People often see strength training as just lifting heavy weights in a gym, but strength training can be done in a variety of ways, including using just your body weight in a jungle gym (callisthenic) type environment utilizing natural and effective exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups, hip dominant squats and plank type exercises . Strength training can also incorporate medicine balls, resistance bands and weighted sleds. These exercises load muscles in a controlled fashion and the tendons which attach to then build up stronger bone. Appropriately conducted strength training programs have a much lower risk of injury than many popular youth sports like soccer, rugby or netball. Participation in strength training can actually reduce the risk of children being injured when they play sports.

“Appropriate strength training programs have no apparent adverse effect on linear growth, growth plates or the cardiovascular system”. American Association of Pediatrics

Before an adolescent/ teenager embark on a weight-training program, he or she should get a musculoskeletal examination from an osteopath to assess the individual’s biomechanical readiness for resistance training. Once the osteopath has given the Ok, make sure your child is watched and taught by a trained professional, such as a certified physical therapist or athletic trainer who applies optimal biomechanics for each exercise and understands the special needs of adolescents. It cannot be stressed enough the importance of having a trained professional on hand.

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. Weight lifting, bodybuilding and power lifting are competitive sports involving high-intensity training and are not recommended for adolescents. Maximal lifts before reaching physical maturity (usually around 16 years) are still not recommended. Strength training, when performed in a controlled, supervised environment, can help adolescents safely improve their strength and overall health and well-being. The health benefits of strength training far outweigh the potential risks, especially in today’s society where children struggle with poor posture and related neck, back pain, headaches.

If your child or adolescent is struggling with back pain, neck pain, headaches, poor posture, sports injuries or exercise related pain please consult with your local osteopath for a full assessment, hands on treatment and advice. Osteopathy will help your child to be better posturally equipped for exercise. If young athletes are doing resistance exercises the right way, they get the most benefits, avoid injury and build habits for lifelong health and fitness.