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Several studies have shown that exercise programs that include resistance training can lead to improvements in the body composition of overweight and obese children and adolescents. Juvenile obesity is associated with increased metabolic risk, and resistance training can be part of the solution to improve muscle health and body composition. An old misconception argues that weightlifting and strength training are harmful to the young skeleton and should be avoided.

This misconception has since been replaced by evidence that not only is strength training in adolescence not harmful, youth is also the most beneficial time to strengthen the skeleton and increase bone mineral density through weight-bearing exercise. Physical exercise, including resistance training, can help ensure that peak bone pass reaches optimal levels by the time the child enters adulthood and the skeleton becomes more resistant to manipulation through outside factors like exercise.

Resistance training has a positive effect on the skeleton even during adulthood, but it is primarily before the skeleton has developed completely and peak bone mass has been reached that the mechanical stress weight training puts on it acts in synergy with natural growth to enhance bone mass. Young weightlifters who regularly perform heavy lifts using compound exercises have significantly higher bone mineral content and bone mineral density than peers of the same age. Introducing weight-bearing activities during adolescence can improve life-long bone health.

It is, however, important to maintain this practice throughout adulthood and into old age, since training-related improvements in skeletal health will be lost upon cessation of exercise, just like muscle mass and strength is lost with detraining. Even if the main purpose is not to get bigger and stronger for the sake of getting bigger and stronger, strength training in adolescence can provide significant benefits for other sport activities. Not only does the increased strength and muscle power mean better performance in almost any sport, research has also shown that young athletes who combine their sport-specific training with resistance training show lower rates of injury.

In addition, when they are injured, resistance training as part of the overall training program shortens the rehabilitation.

Strength Training For Children and Adolescents: Benefits, Risks, and Practical Recommendations

One study showed that high school football athletes who were introduced to weight training as part of their pre-season training experienced lower rates of knee injuries season after season, both less complicated injuries and injuries requiring surgery. Another study demonstrated that high school athletes who regularly participated in strength training showed lower rates of injury than control groups who did not perform any dedicated weight training.

Those who were injured managed to return to training and competition faster than their non-weight-training peers did. Hypertension in teens and even during childhood has become more prevalent as the obesity epidemic has spread to younger populations. There is no clear association between participation in physical exercise on a regular basis and blood pressure in normotensive youth; however, resistance training could help prevent high blood pressure from re-occurring after a successful blood pressure-lowering intervention in previously hypertensive youth. Positive changes in diet and body composition are likely the main drivers behind improvements in blood pressure in hypertensive youth, but the notion that physical exercise, a combination of weight-bearing endurance training and resistance training in particular, could help enhance the positive effects is far from unlikely.

Several studies have suggested that resistance training can have a favorable influence on blood lipids and lipoproteins in adolescents. The risk most commonly associated with weight lifting in youth is probably the risk of injuries to the epiphyseal plates. This is a risk exclusive to children and adolescents.


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In adults, with a fully developed skeleton, the growth plates have already closed. Epiphyseal plate fractures are common.

These injuries usually heal without problems, but the risk for more severe complications is always a consideration. Serious trauma to these areas could lead to premature physeal closure in a worst-case scenario, resulting in stunted growth and limb length abnormalities. Doctors and some scientists began advising against resistance training in the late s and the early s after case reports documented increasing trends of epiphyseal injuries and cartilage damage because of weight training in high school.

Later evaluations of these reports and case studies have since revealed that the weight training injuries from this time mostly occurred because of improper form and poorly designed training programs, not because of strength training per se. The causes of the injuries were likely tied to the use of too heavy loads, improper technique, unsupervised training, and faulty equipment. Both regular resistance training and weight lifting are safer and less injury-prone alternatives than the majority of sport activities school-age adolescents participate in.

There is a lack of prospective studies on resistance training in youth and injuries to skeletal epiphyseal plates. However, three studies have shown acute injuries in strength training adolescents, but none of these were skeletal injuries. A review article found that the risk of injury in these three studies were 0. For example, playing football is almost times more likely to lead to injury. Resistance training can theoretically lead to growth plate fractures, thus increasing the risk of permanent damage to the skeleton.

This risk is only prevalent when the child is using improper form and more weight than he or she can properly handle. This makes it important to ensure that all children and adolescents who take up strength training do so under proper guidance and after thorough instructions, using correct lifting technique and selecting safely manageable loads.

The current opinion of the majority of the experts in the field is that participating in resistance training before epiphyseal closure is not in itself harmful. Soft tissue injuries are the most common strength training-related injuries, in both adults and adolescents. There are numerous reports of injuries related to resistance training in youth, but that is inherent in all forms of physical exercise. When doing something physical, there is always a risk of injury. The only way to eliminate the risk of injury from exercise is to stay sedentary, but that means a much higher risk of negative health outcomes instead.

Luckily, the reported incidence of serious injuries in youth due to resistance training is quite low, especially when compared to sports like football or hockey. Apart from back injuries, the reported type of injury is usually along the lines of shoulder injuries leading to a week away from training. Back injuries, however, are not uncommon. Of all reported strength training-related injuries in adolescents, about a third of those are injuries to the core, mostly back related.

Most of these reported injuries have not been severe, but some have required surgical interventions. Compared to most other sports, the rate of injury is still quite low, and several studies have independently shown that the number of injuries per hours of training is somewhere between 0. One study showed an injury rate of 0. These are lifters using heavier loads and really pushing themselves, maybe not always using proper form, and injury rates can be expected to rise under such conditions, regardless of the lifters age.

Youth Strength Conditioning Specialist Certification

Still, compared to competitive sports like rugby, it is still a very low injury rate. The majority of back injuries reported in strength training youth could be the result of muscular imbalance from training for the mirror. Training programs focused on building visually appealing muscles and on looking good in the mirror could lead to neglected core, trunk and back training with resulting strength imbalances. In this case, the injuries would not be a result of strength training per se , but the result of improperly constructed training programs leading to muscular imbalances over time.

The already low injury rate of youth resistance training might in fact be even lower. Already good statistics could therefore actually be even better. In conclusion, there is a risk of injury when children and adolescents participate in weight training.

Physical exercise always means an increased risk of physical injury compared to sedentary life.

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However, the risk of physical injury from resistance training is minor compared to the risk from most other types of physical exercise. The existing risk can easily be minimized and almost eliminated with supervised training using proper form and precautions. The age-specific risks, like epiphyseal plate injuries, are not related to resistance training per se , but to not following recommended practices.

Empirical evidence shows that resistance training in childhood and adolescence is an effective way to strengthen the young body and to lay the foundations for a strong and healthy adult life. However, there is a limited amount of research done on the psychological effects of resistance training, especially in children and adolescents. The available research indicate exclusively positive effects, however.

A randomized controlled trial demonstrated that overweight teenagers not only showed improved physical parameters like strength, but also improved self-evaluation and behavioral control after six months of regular strength training. Half a year after the study concluded, the positive effects had been eliminated, after the participants stopped training.

This indicates that it is of utmost importance to make physical exercise, including strength training, a life-long endeavor rather than a temporary activity. The psychological benefits of weight training will slowly be lost with detraining, much like physical gains.

Another study showed that weight-training female schoolchildren rated their own bodies as more attractive and expressed more satisfaction with their own physical appearance compared to age-matched controls. Resistance training likely increases the satisfaction with the own body, even without any actual physical changes. The same effects were not evident in boys the same age, however. Yet another study demonstrated that 12 weeks of resistance training resulted in significant increases in muscular strength, decreased amount of body fat, and increased self-esteem, both in overweight and normal-weight teenagers.

Children and adolescents can benefit from regular resistance training to not only improve various physical health markers and muscle strength, but also to improve self-confidence and body image. A recent meta-analysis, which examined the associations between muscle strength and muscle health in young individuals and health markers later in life, found evidence that resistance training in youth increases the chance to stay strong and healthy in adulthood and old age. The better the muscle health in youth, the lower the risk of obesity as an adult.

Partly because behavior and habits that promote physical activity carry over into adulthood, partly because of a more effective energy turnover and metabolism. Isolated studies investigated in the meta-analysis revealed that strong muscles in adolescence were associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome later in life. The statistical significance of these implications were not enough for a conclusive finding, but this was more due to the amount of available research rather than suspicions that resistance training is useless in this regard. The meta-analysis did find a significant association between low muscle strength and the risk of insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is a driving factor that leads to type 2 diabetes, and resistance training improves insulin sensitivity and the function of the beta cells, thus demonstrating a protective effect.

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Strength training: OK for kids? - Mayo Clinic

Another finding was the previously mentioned association between weight-bearing exercise in adolescence and a stronger adult skeleton. Childhood and adolescence are formative years for habits and behavior that carry over into adulthood and greatly increase or decrease the risk of a number of diseases and health problems. In some cases, like bone formation, there is no better opportunity in life to influence this risk in a positive way.

Resistance training, starting in childhood, can be an important factor contributing to the physiological effects necessary to prevent having to treat these health issues later in life.


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