Should children and adolescents strength train? For years, many said "no", believing that it could damage a child's growth plates, thereby stunting their growth. The risks of injury seemed to outweigh any benefit that strength training could provide. But there is growing evidence that strength training is very beneficial for children and could be an important part of their exercise routine.
The latest review, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at studies from the past 60 years related to kids and strength training. "The researchers found that, almost without exception, children and adolescents benefited from weight training. They grew stronger. Older children, particularly teenagers, tended to add more strength than younger ones, as would be expected, but the difference was not enormous. Young people of any age who participated in resistance training at least twice a week for a month or more showed greater strength gains than those who worked out only once a week or for shorter periods."
Early opinion was that lifting weights wouldn't make kids stronger, but research doesn't support that theory. Children don't gain muscle mass the way adults do, but rather experience neurological changes that cause their nervous system and muscles to interact more efficiently. So even though you might not see changes on the outside, there are changes happening on the inside for kids who strength train. Experts say strength training can help prevent injury in young athletes, provided they are doing it safely.
Strength training for children shouldn't involve hours in the gym lifting weights. In fact, it doesn't have to involve weights at all. Body-weight exercises like pushups, one-leg exercises and lunges can all provide the same benefits as a traditional strength training program. Children should always be supervised to make sure they are using proper form, but can perform these exercises without as much of a safety concern as traditional weight training workouts. According to one expert involved in this research, a good age to start regular strength training is between ages 7 and 12.
What do you think? Are you surprised by these recommendations? Do (or did) your children or adolescents strength train?