Resistance or strength training for children is often riddled with misconceptions. It’s not uncommon to hear parents ask if resistance training stunts growth in children or makes them prone to injury risks. So lets dive into this topic a little deeper so that we can weigh the benefits and risks, if there are any. To get things started, let us understand what exactly is resistance training?
Resistance or strength training is a form of physical exercise designed to improve strength and endurance. This can be achieved in multiple ways, using body weight as resistance ( calisthenics ) or external weights ( like dumbbells / machines ). Training techniques may involve calisthenics, isometrics ( holding positions against gravity ) or plyometrics ( jumps ).
ResistanceTraining – Benefits
Performance Benefits –
The benefits of resistance training have been increasingly documented in the pediatric sports science space. Although building strength is often a primary goal, the positive aspects of strength gains in youth have a far-reaching impact, including improvements in motor skill performance, gains in speed and power, developing physical literacy, reducing the risk of injury, and injury rehabilitation. Children and youth are beginning to enter competitive sports and athletics at younger ages, and kids workout programs are getting to be more complex, often involving the use of private coaching, personal trainers, and sports psychologists in addition to their routine coaches and teams. Possessing adequate strength to keep up with these increased demands on the body is valuable to help reduce the risk of injury and optimize gains in performance.
Health Benefits –
Healthy lifestyles incorporate regular exercise that provides a balance of activities, including participating in strength-building programs. In addition to increasing muscular strength, muscular power, and muscular endurance, resistance training has been shown to produce many health benefits, including improvements in cardiovascular fitness, body composition, bone mineral density, blood lipid profiles, insulin sensitivity in youth who are overweight, increased resistance to injury, and mental health.
Programs involving resistance training provide positive options to engage children and adolescents with overweight or obesity in physical activity and may be more likely to create a positive and successful experience for these participants, who may have lower levels of physical fitness, poor exercise compliance, and reduced tolerance for aerobic training. Evidence does show that participation in a resistance-training program helps increase daily levels of spontaneous activity in school-aged boys and girls, which suggests that resistance training may be a good place to start when trying to get inactive kids to be more active. Progressing into a combined program of resistance and aerobic training may generate added benefit because combined programs have shown favourable effects on the reduction of total body fat in youth.
Additional Benefits –
After years of research, it is now accepted that children and adolescents can increase strength with low injury rates if resistance training is well supervised with an emphasis on correct technique. Early studies successfully demonstrated significant strength gains in children and a lack of injury with proper technique and supervision. With a whole lot of studies showing positive gains from youth resistance training, perspectives are shifting regarding integrating resistance training into physical education, youth fitness, and injury-reduction programs.
Previous concerns regarding resistance training focused on what would happen if a child lifts weights, but more recent focus has turned toward what will happen if a child does not lift weights, especially in light of the overall decline in measures of muscular fitness over the years. Targeting strength deficits and building strength reserves will continue to be a valuable concept to address. Presently research supports resistance training in youth with a new perspective of acquiring and maintaining high strength reserves to enhance performance across a wide range of general and specific skills, while reducing injury risk. There is a shift from the primary concern of injuries associated with resistance training to the concern of injury and other adverse events because of a lack of adequate strength to keep up with training demands.
Resistance training is applicable to virtually all children and adolescents for contributions to muscular fitness, resistance to injury, and improved performance. Enhancing muscular strength is an important concept to embrace fully beyond the association with only lifting progressively heavier weights. This clarification may encourage girls and boys to engage in year-round resistance training to increase their strength reserves without fear of getting too muscular or impairing sports performance.
Numerous studies have shown that children and adolescents can gain strength with resistance-training programs involving technique-driven progression along with qualified supervision and instruction. Adequate supervision may be variable depending on the goals of the resistance-training program, and experience of the teacher, instructor, or coach. An experienced professional may be able to effectively guide a larger number of youth, whereas more individualized instruction may be appropriate for more advanced-level techniques. There are many different variables that contribute to a well-designed youth resistance-training program, including quality of instruction, training environment, training frequency, training age, type of resistance used, intensity of effort, number of sets and repetitions, rest interval between sets and exercises, and duration of training.
Sports performance and Resistance Training –
Increases in strength with resistance programs have shown improvement in some performance measures, such as vertical jump, countermovement jumps, and sprint time, as well as improved maximal oxygen uptake with combined resistance and aerobic training programs. Resistance training combined with aerobic training does not appear to impair strength gains in youth and may be more beneficial than single-mode training. Translation of those improvements to overall athletic performance on the field or court may be more difficult because so many variables are involved with actual performance, making it challenging to separate the contribution from resistance training alone. However, positive results in the area of performance measures, along with other aspects of sport, such as injury rehabilitation and injury reduction, make resistance training a valuable piece of the training landscape and foundational to long-term athletic development.
Resistance Training – Risks
The reality is that injury rates with resistance training in youth settings who adhere to quality supervision and proper technique are lower than those occurring in other sports or general free time play at school. On the basis of years of research in this area, there is less concern for injury from supervised, well-designed, and technique-driven resistance training whereas there is more concern for injuries that occur because of poor supervision, an inappropriate progression of training loads, or low strength reserves in youth who are not prepared for the demands of sports practice and competition.
Resistance training has more of a place in injury reduction than in the cause of injury. However, prolonged training with heavy loads and resistance training without adequate rest and recovery between sessions have been correlated with increased injuries and illness, thus requiring similar attention as with other sources of overtraining and sensible incorporation into the yearly training schedule. It is important to account for time spent in resistance training as part of total training time to reduce the risk of overuse injuries. Resistance training can be incorporated into a year-round plan that varies in volume and intensity depending on the sport season (eg, pre season, in season, or off season).
The recommended rest from competitive athletics, sport-specific training, and practice is to take at least 1 to 2 days off per week to allow for physical and psychological recovery. Adequate fluid and caloric intake is necessary to provide the fuel to exercise, compete, recover, and grow. Athletes participating in high levels of training volume who are under recovered and undernourished are at risk for overtraining, injury, and illness.
Appropriately designed resistance training programs have no apparent negative effect on linear growth, physeal ( growth plate ) health, or the cardiovascular system. Explosive contractions of the muscle-tendon attachment at apophyseal areas during active play, sports, or lifting weights may increase the risk of avulsion fracture until closer to skeletal maturity. Resistance training safety is enhanced when teachers, coaches, and instructors ensure a safe training environment and use developmentally appropriate teaching strategies, and have an appropriate instructor/participant ratio. This ratio can vary on the basis of the expertise of the instructor, program design, and training age.
Precautions for children with Medical Conditions
Certain health situations require special attention before beginning a resistance training regimen. Young adults with poorly controlled, pre-existing hypertension require consultation with a medical professional because of the risk of elevation of blood pressure during resistance training with weights. Using one’s own body weight is an acceptable alternative until a medical clearance is obtained. Consultation with a medical professional regarding resistance training is also required for children with uncontrolled seizure disorders, although resistance training has been determined to be safe in children with underlying seizures that are well controlled with medication.
Some children and adolescents may be disqualified from participation in resistance training because of certain medical conditions. Resistance training should be avoided in individuals with pulmonary hypertension because of a risk of acute decompensation during a sudden change in hemodynamics as well as those with Marfan syndrome ( an inherited disorder that affects connective tissues ).
Although exercise interventions that include resistance training may be beneficial for youth with cancer, certain chemotherapeutic agents require caution. Youth with a previous history of cancer treated with anthracycline chemotherapy are at increased risk for cardiotoxicity and acute congestive heart failure during resistance training, as evidenced by case reports associated with doxorubicin, daunomycin or daunorubicin, idarubicin, and possibly mitoxantrone.
Misconceptions Vs Evidence
A child is unable to increase strength before puberty :
• Prepubertal children are able to gain strength by an increase in neurological recruitment of muscle fibers, and gains in strength can be made with low injury rates if resistance training programs are well supervised with an emphasis on proper technique.
Young boys and girls may get muscular if they resistance train :
• Prepubertal strength gains occur by neurological mechanisms, and pubertal gains may facilitate muscle growth by actual muscle hypertrophy ( increase in size ) enhanced by pubertal hormones.
Resistance training may decrease aerobic performance in youth :
• Improvements in aerobic performance have been shown with combined aerobic and resistance training programs, and combined aerobic and resistance programs do not appear to impair strength gains in children.
Resistance training may stunt growth :
• Well-designed resistance training programs have not been shown to have a negative effect on physeal (growth plate) health, linear growth, and cardiovascular health in youth. There is a need to target strength deficits and build strength reserves due to declining measures of muscular fitness in modern-day youth.
SUMMING UP THE IMPORTANCE OF TRAINING FOR CHILDREN :
In this era of sedentary pursuits of technology and social media, keeping children and adolescents active and optimally developing motor skills, muscular fitness, and physical literacy is challenging. No longer can it be assumed that children innately know how to run, hop, jump, and throw. It is important to include training methods that uses resistance exercises, dynamic stability, core exercises, plyometric and agility training performed in short bursts with intermittent periods of rest, helping improve muscular fitness in youth, enhance motor skill development, improve sports performance, and decrease sports injury risk.
It is difficult to say at what age a child can begin resistance training because of developmental differences. If a child is able to begin participating in sports activities at 5 years of age, being able to begin some type of resistance training with body weight movements at that age is acceptable because strength gains can be made in ways other than lifting external loads. An age range of 5 to 7 years is when many children are often involved in sports participation or physical exercise, and it is reasonable that they can also benefit from the strength-building process with exercises such as frog jumps, bear crawls, crab walks, kangaroo hops, and single-leg hops. The single-leg hop is a skill most 5-year-olds should be able to perform, although the ability to perform more complex movements will be determined by the amount of time youth have practiced basic skills and reinforced desired movement patterns. The combination of qualified instruction with technique-driven progression is likely to yield the greatest benefits for youth at any age.