Not too long ago, a team of scientists from the University of North Texas presented some fascinating data at the American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention. Through their research, they were able to demonstrate how physically fit females in the 6th grade were less likely to report feeling depressed upon entering the 7th grade. According to the World Health Organization, adolescent depression is often coupled with poor school habits and later health issues. If depression is caught early enough, and addressed in a proper fashion, parents and professionals can minimize chances of chronic or recurring depression in adulthood.
Are Club Sports Enough?
While it is surely a good start, participation in a seasonal sport but remaining sedentary the rest of the year is not enough to alleviate the symptoms of depression in young people. Fitness is a result of regular and prolonged physical activity.
Today’s obesity epidemic (and concurrent body image/depression issues) seems to be encroaching upon our adolescent population at an alarming rate. As fitness professionals, we must recognize this, along with the understanding that not every teen enjoys running, cycling, court sports or swimming. What can we do to foster kids’ fitness programs that might have a broader appeal?
A Different Approach
As more and more bodybuilding associations have begun including a Teen Division in their competitions, many young athletes are beginning to sit up and take notice. While not everyone aspires to hit the stage, scantily clad, while a panel of judges determines which trophy he will be taking home, the overall message of health, dedication, proper training and clean nutrition just might be able to help stem the obesity tide as well as bridge the gap between inactivity and “becoming a verb”.
As a result, we are seeing a select, decidedly younger demographic emerging in our clientele base. If, up to this point, we have only been working with an adult population, this phenomenon is bound to induce a bit of hesitancy on our part, knowing that a young developing body cannot handle the same type of training that we expect of our adult clients. However, with proper education and understanding, training an adolescent with athletic ability can be a mutually rewarding experience.
Joining The Resistance Movement
By definition, the term “resistance training” refers to a manner of physical conditioning. For our adult clientele, we typically utilize machines, free weights, DynaBands and medicine balls. While the same may hold true when designing programs for a young individual, it is important to educate this population appropriately. A solid starting ground is to clarify with the potential client that “resistance training” is not the same as weightlifting, bodybuilding or powerlifting. The next step is to address how we might best serve the client’s needs safely, in a manner that takes into consideration not only his age and stature, but also the demands of any specific sport in which he is currently participating.
How Safe Is It?
Several research studies have found that training-related injuries in young people, similarly to the sort we have known to occur in adults, sometimes necessitates their taking a short break from the weights. The top injuries cited were anterior shoulder strains or pain and anterior thigh pain. A deeper look into these findings showed estimated injury rates of 0.053 and 0.055 per 100 participant hours. This data, coupled with the observation that relatively short durations of rest were required for adequate and safe muscle repair, corroborates the safety of resistance training in our active youth population. Furthermore, various muscle tissue testing and blood work determined that there was no evidence of musculoskeletal injury or muscle necrosis in children following completion of 14 weeks of progressive resistance training.
If we decide to incorporate a resistance- training program to complement a budding young athlete’s sport-specific training, we must take into consideration the potential for overuse syndrome and the ensuing soft tissue injuries. According to reports from emergency rooms, it would seem as if the torso is the most commonly injured body part for both males and females, even as young as 14 years of age. Other data upholds the idea that the lower back region is a frequent site of injury in adolescent athletes who engaged in resistance training. Since the goal is always to enhance the young person’s abilities, and therefore foster even more success in his sport of choice, being mindful of such injuries can help deflect any potential problems.
While engaging in a resistance-training modality, injury to the growth cartilage has not been reported in any study, provided proper guidance and techniques are being followed. There is also no firm evidence to indicate that resistance training will in any way negatively impact the potential growth in height that takes place in early adolescence. A risk that becomes more of a concern is when young athletes perform jumping/landing activities that cause ground reaction forces of 5-7X the body mass of most adolescents.
Certainly we are aware that among adolescent athletes, high school football players open themselves up to a greater potential for injury, as do hockey players and gymnasts. Knowing that the training required for these sports is already quite taxing to the bodies of young people, it is important to note that the addition of resistance training to the total hours of their training/practice should be carefully considered. It may be prudent to solicit information from school coaches and trainers, so that we can design programs that avoid placing undue chronic stress on a young developing musculoskeletal system. We must attempt to control the intensity, volume and frequency of training. Proper form and execution must always be taught and by the trainers, since an eager athlete may not realize that his resistance training could be pushing the boundaries of safety and recovery.
Who Should Be Training Kids
Just as is seen in the arena of adult one-on-one training, a majority of resistance training-related injuries associated with young individuals are the result of accidents, improper technique or the lack of appropriate training undertaken by the personal trainer. This last factor is perhaps every bit as important as observing gym floor etiquette. It has been postulated that only those trainers who have obtained a national certification of “Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist”, in addition to a national certification as a Personal Trainer, should consider undertaking resistance training with adolescents. In addition, having a thorough understanding of the physiological as well as psychosocial issues accompanying this age demographic is a huge benefit. Prior to agreeing to the training of a young athlete, consider the following very carefully:
Does the prospective client display sufficient emotional maturity to follow your instructions?
- Are you familiar enough with developing bodies to provide dynamic warm-up activities?
- Does your workout program include exercises for all of the major muscle groups and not just those targeted during sports-specific motions, including the hips, abs and lower back?
- Are you prepared to stress the importance of prioritizing proper technique rather than the amount of weight lifted?
- Do you possess sufficient knowledge to know how and when to modify a training program as needed?
- Have you taken into consideration, and addressed, the variety of lifestyle factors that may help or hinder fitness performance (adequate pre-workout and post-workout nutrition, hydration, sufficient amount of sleep, etc.)?
If you feel comfortable with all of these parameters and are ready to take on a younger clientele, know that you will truly be making a difference in the development, health and overall well being of the next generation of fitness enthusiasts. Congratulations!
- PEDIATRICS Vol. 107 No. 6 June 2001, pp 1470-1472
- Faigenbaum, Avery Strongkid.com, 2010
- Faigenbaum AD, Kraemer WJ, Blimkie CJ, Jeffreys I, Micheli LJ, Nitka M, Rowland TW. “Youth Resistance Training: Updated Position Paper from the National Strength and Conditioning Association”, J Strength Cond Res Aug. 23 2009
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