Title The Facts and Myths of Youth Strength and Resistance Training

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As the kids return to school and the fall sports season kicks into high gear, you may be wondering how best to position your children to succeed in physical education class or in after-school programs. Preparing for physical activity isn’t just for competitive athletes. After all, safe and injury-free participation in any type of movement requires preparation to develop the necessary skills, abilities and fitness levels.

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You may be reluctant to consider resistance training for young children, but there are many myths and misconceptions about it. Consider the following facts and fiction about youth resistance training:

Fiction: Resistance training will stunt children’s growth.

Facts: This misconception has been persistent and stems from an erroneous first report that suggested that children who did heavy labor tended to be short in stature. The report, however, did not consider other contributing factors, including inadequate nutrition and excessive working hours.

Fortunately, parents can rest assured that there is absolutely no evidence that a well-designed resistance training program will stunt growth. In fact, there has never been a report of a sensible, supervised resistance training program negatively affecting children’s bone growth plates or stunting physical development in any way.

Fiction: Children shouldn’t lift weights before age 12 because it’s not safe and won’t increase their strength anyway.

Facts: This myth comes in many forms, with different ages attached to it. The truth is, children can begin participating in resistance training when they have the ability to accept and follow instructions. This emotional maturity occurs at different ages for different children, so it is important to avoid grouping children by age without also considering their individual level of maturity. As a general rule, most children around the age of 7 or 8 can usually perform strength exercises if they are mature enough to play sports.

Another age-related concern is low testosterone levels in children. Although testosterone improves muscle size and strength development, high levels are not necessary for strength gains. Children may have more difficulty increasing muscle size, but increases in muscle strength are comparable to those seen in adults when adjusted for body weight.

Fiction: Resistance training is only for football players who want to “bulk up”.

Facts: All young athletes, from swimmers and soccer players to tennis and soccer players, can benefit from resistance training. In fact, resistance training can make young athletes less prone to injury. It is essential that young athletes work with a qualified trainer or trainer who has experience working with this population, as the demands of each sport are different, which means the training program must be specific to the sport.

Generally speaking, sport-specific resistance training can improve muscle strength and endurance, as well as the ability to run, throw, kick, and jump. When it comes to mass gain, children will not build bigger muscles through resistance training, but rather will become more efficient at recruiting muscle fibers in a coordinated fashion for greater force production.

Fiction: Children should not lift weights, but rather perform bodyweight exercises.

Facts: Bodyweight exercises, including push-ups, pull-ups, and squats, are sometimes considered “safer” by concerned parents. However, different modes of resistance training, including not only bodyweight exercises but also weight machines and free weights, have been shown to be equally safe and effective for young people.

Of course, this assumes that qualified instructions are available and that proper guidelines are followed. In fact, if a child is overweight or obese, bodyweight exercises can often be too intense and downright overwhelming, in which case using other forms of resistance is more appropriate and safer.

Benefits of resistance training for young people

The potential benefits of youth resistance training are considerable. Overweight or obese children tend to be particularly good at resistance training because they can often lift more weight than their classmates. But most importantly, resistance training should never be used as a way to promote competition, as this can set the stage for injury. While overweight or obese children often avoid cardiorespiratory exercise, their success with resistance training often translates into trying other forms of exercise and physical activity.

Resistance training can help with weight control and improve body composition by building muscle and burning fat. Additionally, this form of exercise can improve insulin sensitivity, which is an important marker of metabolic health and especially important for overweight or obese youth.

Resistance training also has benefits with respect to musculoskeletal development, as it increases bone mineral density beyond what is normally seen with normal growth and maturation and protects against bone fractures. This benefit is particularly important for girls, who are at increased risk of osteoporosis later in life.

Athletic performance can also be improved through resistance training, as muscle strength is essential in almost all athletic movements, including running, jumping, throwing, and striking. This effect is amplified by sport-specific resistance training in which exercises and muscle actions are performed during training that are also performed during the sport itself. Resistance to injury is also improved through resistance training, as low levels of muscular conditioning and physical fitness are considerable risk factors.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for many young people, resistance training provides psychological and social benefits. Children often feel better, not only physically but also mentally, after spending time being physically active with their friends and classmates. Resistance training, like other forms of physical activity, has also been linked to better academic performance – an important consideration for many parents.

Deciding on Youth Resistance Training

The benefits of youth resistance training far outweigh any concerns you may have about encouraging your children to participate. Whatever physical activity goals you or your children may have, ranging from improving athletic performance and muscle strength to improving mental well-being, weight loss or even better notes, a well-designed and supervised resistance training program could be the answer.

And, if your child is overweight or obese, resistance training can provide a much-needed sense of accomplishment in physical activity and serve as a way to get them more interested in exercise. The positive feelings they associate with exercise can make them healthier and happier as they grow.

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Richard V. Johnson