Strength training offers many benefits to all types of children and adolescents. Strength training is a type of exercise and conditioning that focuses on the use of resistance to build strength, endurance and size of the skeletal muscles1. When done properly, strength training can improve sports performance, protect against sports-related injuries, increase muscular strength and endurance, strengthen bones, promote healthy cholesterol and blood pressure, improve self-esteem and help children maintain a healthy weight2.
There seems to be controversy surrounding the proper age a child can begin strength training and whether or not lifting weights is appropriate. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Strength and Condition Association (NSCA) all support strength training for kids. In fact, AAP states, “appropriate strength-training programs have no apparent adverse effect on linear growth, growth plates or the cardiovascular system2.” AAP supports strength and resistance programs for children, even prepubescent, as long as they are monitored appropriately and are geared to the child’s developmental level. Therefore, AAP has one limitation regarding resistance training. They suggest that only children who have reached Tanner Stage 5 maturity, when visible sex characteristics have developed, should perform maximal repetitive lifts. This is because the growth plates are vulnerable to injury, and repeated injury to these growth plates may hinder growth. Injury is much more likely when performing maximal lifts.
It is important to note that children should have a strong basic exercise foundation and have efficient movement patterns in order to develop strength and flexibility. An ideal age to start strength training is 7-8 years old because balance and postural control skills have matured to adult levels. Proper form, technique and safety are keys to success, and therefore explosive and rapid lifting is not recommended because it is difficult to maintain proper form and perform exercises safely, which may stress body tissues2.
As far as sports specific training goes, a child athlete must master the basics. Basics such as strength, balance, power, coordination and visual perception in order to improve athleticism. You cannot solely train specific skill, like throwing or swinging, for a specific sport. The key is to improve strength, power, flexibility and speed through efficient movement patterns. After a child becomes proficient in the basic skills, more specific skills can be introduced. It is important to remember that flexibility is the key to preventing injury and stretching should not be neglected6.
In conclusion, strength training is safe for children and adolescents and should be incorporated into their exercise routine to increase both physical and mental performance.