Youth Strength & Fitness training has over the years been wrongfully considered dangerous and having the potential to interfere with normal growth patterns. Research has demonstrated youth participation in resistance training has no adverse affects on structural growth, and may even favourably influence growth patterns (1). Beyond influences on youth growth patterns strength and fitness training for school aged children is associated with many benefits, from psychological health, cognition and attention (6), overall health (4) and sport performance (1).
Benefits of Youth Strength & Fitness Training
School aged children benefit from physical activity in many aspects of overall health (5) and academic achievement measured by mathematics and reading achievement (7). Aerobic fitness, which can be developed through resistance training and sport participation is positively associated with academic achievement in school aged children. The opposite is seen with BMI (body mass index) which is shown to be negatively associated with academic achievement (7). Research also found school aged children dealing with ADHD saw improved motor skills, behaviour reports and information processing in school following regular pre-planned physical activity over a 10 week period (6).
Participation in sport does qualifies as physical activity and is beneficial for many school aged children to achieve health benefits of physical activity. Simply participating in sport is a great first step towards improved health and academic achievement. However, literature has demonstrated that sport participation on its own may be an insufficient stimulus for developing the connective tissue strength required for reducing incidence of injury. Strength and fitness training can form the important bridge between sport participation and injury prevention required for children to stay active and reap the health benefits of sport participation. Strength and fitness training can ensure appropriate development of all normal movement patterns and facilitate reduced risk of injury.
Bridging the Gap Between Sport Participation and Physical Inactivity
Structured and supervised strength & fitness training may be of even greater importance for youth who do not participate in recreational sport and regular physical activity. The health benefits of physical activity were found to be multiplied in high-risk youth (overweight and obese, high blood pressure, etc.) (5). Unfortunately high-risk you may have an inability to participate in physical activity which in turn affects a child’s desire to participate due to negative feedback and low self-esteem (1). This is where fitness professionals can provide assistance. In private and small group settings children can participate in physical activity that is appropriate to their ability and skill level without social anxieties in a positive environment.
In the last 25 years childhood obesity rates have tripled (2) making physical activity participation at a young age an important tool to ensure children experience healthy growth and development. Youth participation in physical activity and resistance training can facilitate development of lifelong exercise habits leading to improvements in cardiac function, blood pressure response, body composition, psychological well-being and improved bone density (strong bones). Improving bone density in young girls through participation in resistance training and exercise will help to reduce risk of bone diseases later in life.
Studies suggest the more physical activity the greater the health benefit (4) and greater potential for academic success (7). Physical activity should be a regular part of school aged children’s lives. On average to improve and maintain health youth should participate in 30 minutes a day of physical activity. This can be achieved through 30 minutes a day or 3-5 sessions of 45-60 minutes of exercise spread through a week (4).
Safety of Youth Strength & Fitness Training
Resistance training for youth of course comes with some risk of injury. However injury from resistance training is caused primarily due to mistakes in technique and not a result of underdeveloped youth musculature highlighting the importance for a qualified fitness professional. Consider that the forces a child experiences while playing recreational sport, in gym class or running around with friends are significantly higher than the forces their bodies will experience during appropriate resistance training. Bodyweight running, jumping and landing expose a child’s body to forces 3.5-5x greater than bodyweight (3). During resistance training very few individuals outside of highly trained elite athletes with years of training are capable of lifting weights of this magnitude. With proper supervision and coaching from qualified and experienced professionals resistance training for youth likely presents significantly less risk of injury than recreational sport participation and can contribute to reduced risk of injury during physical activity and sport participation.
Appropriate Age to Start Training
There is no minimum age that children can begin participation in resistance training provided a qualified and experienced coach is programming and supervising the resistance training sessions. Generally if children are ready to participate in sport activities then they are ready for some type of resistance training. Before beginning a resistance training program youth must however be mentally and emotionally ready to comply with a coaches instruction (1).
Youth Strength & Fitness Program at Ace Sports Clinic
A resistance training program for youth at Ace Sports Clinic provides a safe and positive environment as well as qualified and experienced coaches for youth to develop physical fitness and sport performance.
- Science and Practice of Strength Training 2nd Edition, Dr. Vladimir Zatsiorsky & Dr. William Kraemer
- Canada Health Services, https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/childhood-obesity/childhood-obesity.html
- Ground Reaction Forces associated with effective elementary school based jumping intervention. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2005
- Evidence Based Physical Activity for School-age Youth. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2005.
- Systematic review of the health benefits of physical activity and fitness in school-age children and youth. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2010.
- A Physical Activity Program Improves Behaviour and Cognitive Functions in Children with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders. 2010.
- Physical Fitness and Academic Achievement in Third and Fifth grade students. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. 2007.