When we talk about youth athlete development, so many questions arise. Many parents are concerned that resistance training may not be good for their young athlete and Aunt Susie, who read a headline while standing in the checkout line at Walmart, says that kids who use resistance training will never grow another inch. So let’s see if we can bust your myth and get Aunt Susie to stop reading headlines in the line at Walmart.
Myth 1: It is unsafe for children to participate in resistance training.
FACT: Well, first of all, the risks associated with strength training are typically less than the sport the young athlete is training for. It is, however, important that there is some level of supervision to insure that the training is being done correctly and in a safe manner. Therefore it is important that the athlete work with a qualified trainer or with an instructional guide like instructional videos.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) says that “strength training can be a safe and effective activity for this age group (as young as 3 years), provided that the program is properly designed and competently supervised”. They go on to say, “If they are ready for participation in organized sports or activities – then they are ready for some type of strength training.”
Avery Faigenbaum, who is on the President’s Council on Fitness and Sports says, “An estimated 15% to 50% of all injuries sustained by youth while playing sports could be prevented if more emphasis was placed on developing fundamental fitness abilities prior to sports participation.”
Myth 2: Resistance training can stunt the growth of children.
FACT: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “there is no evidence linking strength training with adverse effects of linear growth, growth plates or cardiovascular systems. However, if done in a safe, well supervised setting, this type of training will not only improve sports performance, but will also help prevent and rehabilitate injury and enhance body composition, overall body function and long term health.”
Myth 3: The only good that can come out of strength training is building muscle.
Fact: Let’s get a couple of things straight. Strength training, weight lifting and body building are not all the same. The Mayo clinic says, “Light resistance and controlled movements are best – Your child can do many strength training exercises with his or her own body weight or inexpensive resistance tubing.” They go on to say, “Don’t confuse strength training with weightlifting, bodybuilding or powerlifting. These activities are largely driven by competition.” This simply means that the participant is attempting to lift more weight or develop larger muscles than their competition. That is not what we are talking about here. When we talk strength or resistance training, we refer to an athlete who intends to strengthen their body in order to better perform and reduce the chance of injury.
So, in general, what are some of the benefits of strength training?
- It can increase a young person’s muscle strength and endurance
- Help protect muscles and joints from sports-related injuries
- Improve performance in nearly any sport
What about those who are not athletes? Are there any other benefits? You bet there are.
- Strengthens a child’s bones
- Helps promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Helps a child maintain a healthy weight
- Improves a child’s confidence and self-esteem
What else should be considered when a child uses resistance training to improve performance?
- Seek instruction. Whether the young athlete has a personal coach or utilizes instructional videos, they don’t need to grab resistance bands and start doing exercises. Unless your child is more mature and responsible than most adults, he/she needs to follow a well-structured program.
- Warm up and cool down. This is one of the biggest mistakes made in any exercise program, sport or activity. Always….Always warm your muscles first. This will prepare them for a more vigorous activity such as resistance training. We see coaches asking young athletes to stretch their muscles before any warming. Why? A cold muscle is much more prone to injury. Light stretching should be done after your training session. This is your cool down.
- Don’t use too much resistance. It’s just not necessary when your focus is performance enhancement. As a matter of fact, if you over develop your muscle structure, you could lose flexibility and other necessities for your sport or activity.
- Proper Technique. We already mentioned the importance of instruction. Make sure that the young athlete is not doing the drill or exercise wrong. An individual who uses poor technique is doing two things. First, he/she is cutting corners and not developing appropriately. This will reduce the effectiveness of the overall training program. Second, the athlete is putting themself in a position where injury is more likely.
- Rest. A resistance training plan should not be done every day of the week. As a matter of fact, the Mayo clinic says that “two or three training sessions a week are plenty.”
In closing, it’s important to revisit the fact that resistance or strength training can be safe and can indeed increase performance. Young athletes, who want to get ahead of their competition, are participating in such programs. It doesn’t matter the sport. The dedicated are developing strength. Results won’t happen overnight but a focused athlete will eventually notice a difference in muscle strength and endurance.
Are you an athlete? Have you considered enhancing your athletic ability by using resistance training? What are some of the things you do to strengthen your body and sidestep injury?