PLEASE NOTE: We are undergoing a name change. Unleashed Training is now Sprint Ninja. We still offer high quality strength and conditioning along with personal training, with our specialty being sprint training.
Strength training for kids is a controversial topic of conversation. Old wisdom suggests that strength training is dangerous for children and will lead to failure to grow, along with dozens of other problems. But is this belief valid? Is strength training bad for kids under the age of 16? Could strength training be beneficial to your child instead of a hindrance? Most certainly.
What is Strength Training?
In order to understand why or why not kids should lift weights you need to understand what is meant by the term strength training.
Strength training is any form of training against resistance for the purpose of increasing strength, either overall or within a targeted muscle or group of muscles.
Examples of strength training…
Body weight strength training – This includes any form of resistance training where one’s own body is used for resistance, instead of lifting an external weight like a barbell. Body weight strength training includes basic exercises such as push-ups and pull-ups to more advanced gymnastics exercises.
Barbell strength training – Barbell strength training is exactly as it sounds, training to get stronger using the external weight of the barbell. This includes movements such as deadlifts, squats, overhead press etc.
Olympic weightlifting – Olympic weightlifting refers to the lifts performed in the Olympic games, which are the clean and jerk and the snatch. Olympic lifts and their various supplemental lifts and variations are designed for muscular power, not just strength.
Awkward objects and strongman – Strongman training refers to the style of lifts included in strongman competitions. Things like farmers walk, log press, loading atlas stones, towing cars/trucks/places etc.
Myth Vs. Reality
There are a lot of people that will tell you that strength training for kids is not a good idea. Their reasoning behind this is based not on research, but on assumptions. Kids have soft growth plates in their bones. These plates are responsible for height and limb length. Due to their less dense nature, it is believed that kids lifting weights puts too much stress on these plates and they eventually cease to provide necessary growth. Other reasons include muscles that have not fully matured and muscles that have developed strength while the tendons lag behind, leading to tendon problems.
Lets look at it in point form…
· Growth plates are not damaged as a result of strength training. Under normal circumstances, resistance itself does nothing, either positive or negative, to prevent growth plates from increasing the length of bones.
· Excessive training volume, the rapid increase in the loads that are lifted and injury are factors that lead to damage of growth plates and other growth and development problems. For this reason, strength training for kids needs to be approached intelligently and cautiously.
· Kids are capable of increasing strength SAFELY by as much as 30% in a 10 week period as a result of a low to moderate intensity and low to moderate volume strength training programme.
· A large percentage of sporting injuries in children are a result of muscle imbalances, lack of stability, lack of overall strength and weak joint integrity. A carefully implemented strength training programme is a controlled and measurable method for engineering the body against these injuries. If strength is increased in the absence of injury then sporting related injuries are less likely to occur.
· Strength training is one of the safest and most controlled ways that a child can improve physical ability in sports and everyday activities.
· Strength training for kids should be approached carefully and in minimalist style. Kids are starting from a blank slate, they don’t have a strength training history. For this reason it is recommended that kids start with basic and controlled movements that are easily corrected, such as squats, deadlifts, push-ups and pull-ups.
In summary, strength training is a very safe and viable option for kids to improve physical performance. The belief that strength training in itself damages growth plates and negatively influences the growth and development of your child is not a valid concern in terms of scientific evidence. All evidence connected to this involves cases where kids were either injured or encouraged to take part in a strength training programme that was beyond their physical ability.
If constructed properly, at an appropriate intensity and appropriate volume, strength training is a valuable tool in developing young athletes from as young as four years old. The benefits span from injury prevention to enormous increases in performance.
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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons
Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.