Weight training for youngsters is a popular topic within our industry and the myths going around this topic are endless. If I was a parent the question i would want to know is:
‘can my child weight train?’
For those parents out there that have a little superstar in the making for whatever sport they participate in the 2nd question I would want to know is:
‘Will resistance training improve my child’s performance for their given sport?’
For both of the above questions the answer is a resounding YES, and hopefully this blog post will go about explaining why and dispelling all the myths you hear about children and weight training.
So here is the first big myth and question that all you parents are wanting to know:
Does resistance training expose children and adolescences to potential injury?
The funny thing is all the research that has shown increase in strength, endurance and power in children or adolescences came with no increase in injury potential.
So why has this myth developed?
In 1983, the American Academy of paediatrics produced a mission statement that still has has a negative impact on children and resistance training to this day. Much of it was down to injuries to the epiphysis and musculoskeletal system maturity. The epiphysis is the rounded end of a long bone at its joint. Basically because of this they concluded that resistance training shouldn’t be performed until the individual has reached full maturity.
This position statement above is why you would constantly hear the below:
Sorry your child cannot weight train in this gym until they are 16!!!!!
Weight training stunts your child’s growth!!!!
Weight training is unhealthy for your child until they fully mature!!!!
The simple truth is your child can weight train from whatever age you wish. The key is to make sure your child is properly supervised by a qualified professional who understands the body.
Some research has found that in boys aged 13 or below and girls aged 12 or below that there can be a clear increased level of strength and strength-endurance as a result of resistance training. With regards to increased muscle mass that cant be ruled out however a greater degree of hypertrophy (increased muscle mass) is found towards late adolescence potentially due to changes in hormonal and maturation that supports growth.
One thing weight training has been shown to improve among children is the neurological system. If their neural mechanisms improve so will the child’s strength and rate of force development. I have found also that it sets them apart from others when it comes to the weight room when adolescence has finished. This is because their motor patterns have already been grooved during childhood with all the lifts they and their team mates and competitors will be performing.
One thing that always needs to be considered is the maturation of the child. All children develop and grow at different rates therefore making their start point and progression with regards to resistance training slightly different even if they are the same age.
So whats the next set for you and your child?
The next for you would be to find your child a local facility the teaches your child what we called ‘fundametal movement patterns. Teaching them these patterns from an early age enhances their physical literacy and gives the child confidence in movement patterns that they will be mimicking when playing sport.
These movement patterns help enhance fitness and sport specific components such as balance, twisting, turning, walking, running, hopping, jumping. Once these movement skills have been executed to a satisfactory standard they can then be progressed to the next stage.
Below I have included some of the movements i commonly use with children. Some of them mimic and animal so to keep their adherence at a high level we play the animal game with them. The ‘GORILLA’ mimics a deadlift out a squat, the ‘GRASSHOPPER’ is great for hip, thoracic mobility and shoulders stabilisation, the ‘CROCODILE’ is brilliant for abdominal strength, shoulder stabilisation and again hip mobility. The ‘LIZARD’ teaches lateral movement patterns as well as improving hip mobility. ‘CRUSHING THE CAN’ is great for teaching the overhead squat which is great for improving whole body strength across the whole kinetic chain.
The Gorilla and Grasshopper movements
The Crocodile, lizard and Crushing the can exercise
These movements are great for teaching children the fundamentals while also making it fun for them by playing the ‘animal’ game. From here under proper supervision they will be ready to be progressed on to the next stage which may or may not involve some external load.
To summarise research has come a long way on the last 35 years and there is resounding formal and informal research to suggest that performed correctly resistance training is only going to improve your child’s development and sporting performance.