The Facts and Myths of Youth Strength and Resistance Training

As kids head back to school and the fall sports season kicks into high gear, you may be wondering how to best position your kids for success in physical education classes or in after-school programs. Preparing for physical activity is not just for competitive athletes. After all, safe and injury-free participation in any type of movement requires preparation to build the necessary skills, abilities and levels of physical conditioning.

If you have a child who is overweight or has obesity and avoids sports and dreads PE, it’s important to find an activity they enjoy. Resistance training may be the perfect fit, as it gives them an opportunity to excel athletically and yields important health and fitness benefits.

[Read: 5 Realistic Fitness Goals.]

Strength Training for Kids

You may be reluctant to consider resistance training for younger children, but there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about this topic. Consider the following facts and fiction about youth resistance training:

Fiction: Resistance training will stunt kids’ growth.

Facts: This misconception has been persistent and comes from an early, flawed report that suggested children who engaged in heavy labor tended to be shorter in stature. The report, however, did not take into account other contributing factors including inadequate nutrition and excessive work hours.

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

[READ: Plant-Based Diets for Kids.]

Fiction: Children should not lift weights until they are 12 years old because it’s not safe and won’t lead to increases in strength anyway.

Facts: This myth comes in many forms, with various ages attached to it. The truth is, children can begin participating in resistance training when they have the ability to accept and follow directions. This emotional maturity comes at different ages for different kids, so it’s important to avoid grouping children by age without also considering their individual level of maturity. Generally, most kids around age 7 or 8 can typically perform resistance training exercises if they are mature enough to play a sport.

Another age-related concern centers around children’s low levels of testosterone. While testosterone enhances muscle size and strength development, high levels are not needed to achieve strength gains. Children may have a harder time 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 players and football players, can benefit from resistance training. In fact, resistance training can make young athletes less prone to injury. It’s essential that young athletes work with a qualified trainer or coach who has experience in working with this population, as the demands of each sport are different, which means that the training program should be sport-specific.

Generally speaking, sport-specific resistance training can improve muscular strength and endurance, as well as running, throwing, striking and jumping ability. When it comes to bulking up, children will not develop larger muscles from resistance training, but instead will become more efficient at recruiting muscle fibers in a coordinated fashion for greater force production.

[READ: How Long Does It Take to See Fitness Results?]

Fiction: Children should not lift weights, but instead perform body-weight exercises.

Facts: Body-weight exercises, including push-ups, pull-ups and squats, are sometimes thought be “safer” by concerned parents. However, different modes of resistance training, including not only body-weight exercises but also weight machines and free weights, have proved equally safe and effective for youth.

Of course, this assumes that qualified instruction is available and appropriate guidelines are followed. In fact, if a child is overweight or has obesity, body-weight exercises can often be too intense and downright discouraging, in which case using other forms of resistance are more appropriate and safer.

Benefits of Resistance Training for Youth

The potential benefits of youth resistance training are profound. Children who are overweight or have obesity tend to perform particularly well when it comes to resistance training, as they can often lift more weight than their classmates. Importantly though, resistance training should never be used as a means to foster competition, as that can set the stage for injury. While kids who are overweight or obese often shy away from cardiorespiratory exercise, their success with resistance training often translates into trying other forms of exercise and physical activity.

Resistance training can facilitate weight control and improve body composition by building muscle and burning fat. In addition, this form of exercise can improve insulin sensitivity, which is an important marker of metabolic health and particularly important for youth who are overweight or obese.

Resistance training also yields benefits when it comes to musculoskeletal development, as it increases bone mineral density beyond what is normally seen with normal growth and maturation and protects against bone fracture. This benefit is particularly important for girls, who have an increased risk for osteoporosis later in life.

Sports performance can also be improved through resistance training, as muscular strength is essential in just about 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 also are performed during the sport itself. Injury resistance 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. Kids often feel better, not only physically but also mentally after spending time performing physical activity with their friends and classmates. Resistance training, like other forms of physical activity, has also been associated with improved academic performance — an important consideration for many parents.

Deciding About Youth Resistance Training

The benefits of youth resistance training far outweigh any concerns you may have about encouraging your children to participate. No matter what physical activity–related goals you or your children may have, ranging from improved sports performance and enhanced muscular strength to improved mental well-being, weight loss or even better grades, a well-designed and supervised resistance training program could be the answer.

And, if your child is overweight or has obesity, resistance training may provide a much-needed feeling of success when it comes to physical activity and serve as a way to get them more interested in exercise. The positive feelings they associate with exercise may set them up to become healthier and happier as they grow up.

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The Facts and Myths of Youth Strength and Resistance Training originally appeared on usnews.com

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