Benefits & Safety
weight training was previously deemed unsafe and inappropriate
for children, youth weight training is now recognized as a safe
and effective method of conditioning for children (Faigenbaum
et al.,1998). Youth weight training is becoming universally accepted
by qualified professional organizations such as the National
Strength and Conditioning Association (1996), American College
of Sports Medicine (1993), American Academy of Pediatrics (1990),
and the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine (1988).
In fact, regular participation in a broad-based training program
that includes resistance training can significantly reduce sports
related injuries in adolescents (Faigenbaum & Schram 2004).
The major benefits of a properly designed youth weight training
- Increased muscular strength, power, and local muscular endurance
- Decreased injuries in sports and recreational activities
- Improved performance in sports and recreational activities
Properly designed weight training programs are safe for children
because they are performed with specific movements and allow
for an adaptive training response. Training loads can be precisely
scaled to the ability of the child and each exercise can be performed
within a predefined technic. Progressive resistances are used
by increasing the load in small increments with adequate recovery,
allowing for an adaptive training response. These adaptations
occur even when exercises involve explosive motions designed
to mimic the demands of athletic movements. Contrast this with
the sporadic forces endured by the child's body during certain
team sports. These rapid movements and random impacts inherent
in such sports are relatively unpredictable, not scalable, and
not incremental (Rippetoe and Kilgore 2006).
Also see Training
Specificity and Adaptation
child's and parent's fears and misconceptions regarding youth
weight training should be addressed. See Misconceptions About Training Youth (PDF).
A child should have the physical and psychological maturity level
required to receive instruction and behave in a not disruptive
and safe manner. Children should be expected to behave appropriately
in a weight room and taught proper
gym etiquette. If weight machines are used, they should be
able to accommodate the smaller size of a child's body.
Key recommendations from Rippetoe and Kilgore (2006) include:
- Youth weight training programs should be supervised by well
trained coaches or instructors with appropriate certification.
- A coaching-to-trainee ratio of 1:12 or less.
- A maximum training time of 15 hours per week from all physical
- Exercise sessions should be fun.
Children who have not weight trained should begin with a supervised
general strength conditioning program using suggested
repetition ranges and appropriate training
volumes and frequencies. Intensity (repetition ranges) and
training volumes (number of sets and exercises) can be increased
as the young athlete becomes more conditioned.
Periodization techniques such as Undulating
Periodization or the Hormonal
Fluctuation model would be most appropriate and effective
for advanced, older youth athletes (Rippetoe and Kilgore 2006).
and Kilgore (2006) claim that there still remains a strong bias
against high volume and high intensity Olympic-style weightlifting,
which is commonly practiced in athletic sports and conditioning
programs. They argue workouts designed for kids with only machines
restrict the child to pre-determined movement pathways, effectively
limiting the development of balance and coordination. They also
point out that recommendations postponing high volume and high
intensity training until full sexual maturity, as some pediatric
organizations have suggested, would effectively eliminate the
vast majority of high school athletes from weight rooms all over
the world and essentially compromise the athletes' safety and
performance in full-contact sports, which interestingly, are
not recommended against despite having much greater rates of
injury (Rippetoe and Kilgore 2006).
Indeed, many team sports have far greater injury rates than
weightlifting (Hamill 1994). See Injury
Rate Comparisons. Furthermore, Pierce, Byrd, and Stone (1999)
concluded a structured weightlifting program (including Olympic-style
weightlifts such as the clean
& jerk, and snatch)
can be safely performed by girls and boys, ages 7-16. Interestingly,
Faigenbaum et al. (1998) showed that 8 to 12 year-olds that were
supervised during maximal lifting resulted in no injuries, demonstrating
that even maximum intensity training can be a safe for children
when properly supervised.
As with all physical activity, injuries due to weight training
will occur on occasion. However, the risk of injury to a child
during weight training is relatively small compared to other
activities. In fact, the benefits from a properly designed and
supervised weight training program outweigh the risks.
Faigenbaum AD, Schram J (2004). Can resistance training reduce
injuries in youth sports? Strength and Conditioning Journal.
Faigenbaum AD, Westcott WL, Long C, Loud RL, Delmonico M,
and Micheli L (1998). Relationship Between Repetitions and Selected
Percentage of the One Repetition Maximum in Healthy Children.
Fleck SJ, Kreamer WJ (2004). Designing Resistance Training
Programs. Human Kinetics, 3, 287-302. See textbook.
Fleck SJ, Kreamer WJ (2007). Optimizing Strength Training.
Human Kinetics, 165-167. See book.
Pierce K, Byrd R, Stone M (1999). Injuries in youth weightlifting.
J Strength Cond Res. 13(4):430.
Rippetoe M, Kilgore L (2006). Practical Programming for Strength
Training. The Aasgaard Company, 253-256.