Is Weight training safe for my child?

Is weight training safe for my child?
 The IHP youth resistance training: lifting weight lifts the spirit

Juan Carlos Santana, MEd, CSCS
Is weight training safe for my child?  At the Institute of Human Performance (IHP), this is one of the most popular questions posed by concerned parents. Although resistance training carries some injury risk, the risks to children are similar to those of adults!  Additionally, as a recreational activity as well as a sport, statistics clearly show weightlifting/weight-training carries a lower incidence of injury than many popular sports such as football, tennis, soccer, cheerleading, gymnastics, baseball and basketball.
Traditionally, abnormal and stunted bone growth has been the primary concern in this area.  Yes, there have been cases of growth plate fractures in adolescents.  However, the use of improper technique, excessive loading or lack of qualified supervision characterized most of these cases.  To date, the position of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the world’s foremost authority on strength training, is that well-supervised weight training programs are well tolerated by children as young as 8 years of age!  To put it in simple terms, there have been no reports showing the fracture of growth plates with properly designed and supervised resistance training programs.  This data includes countries in which children as young as 8 years participate in advanced multijoint lifts that require a high degree of skill demand.  The key to minimizing the risk of injury in resistance training for children is the type of supervision found in IHP; close qualified supervision implementing sound programs!
At IHP, we have seen that the benefits of properly designed resistance training programs for the youth far outweigh the risks.  Our view is also supported by the scientific data. Contrary to conventional wisdom, children as young a 6 years of age can significantly increase their strength with a properly designed resistance program, above and beyond their natural growth and maturation.  However, the training effects in children are not permanent.  That is, if they don’t keep it up by training at least twice a week, strength gains are quickly lost.  The mechanism behind this rapid de-training still remains unclear.
Since children often participate in sports or activities that are strength and power dominated, it is reasonable to expect that resistance training would enhance their performance in such activities.  One of the greatest benefits of IHP’s youth resistance training program is that it better prepares children for participation in sports and recreational activities and reduces the likelihood of injuries. In addition to the physiological benefits, youth resistance training programs also impact various psychosocial parameters.  The parents of the children involved in the IHP youth resistance training program report better cognition and class/home work, improved self-esteem, and healthier attitudes toward physical education, physical fitness and lifelong exercise.   The IHP youth resistance training program has also shown to have various health benefits associated with it, such as, improved blood pressure, improved bone density, and favorable body composition changes.
In closing, one should keep in mind that it is not so much the activity (i.e. resistance training) that is in question, but rather the intensity and appropriateness of the exercise.  I often find that the biggest hazards athletic children face are overzealous or ignorant parents and coaches.  The win, win, win mentality is truly the enemy of a child’s proper development.  Furthermore, specialization in a single sport does not provide enough movement variety for full biomotor development.   Regardless of the activity, children should be encouraged to participate in a wide assortment of fun and developmental activities, resistance training should be one of them.  Come to IHP in Boca Raton, Florida and ask about our youth resistance training program. 


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