Thursday, December 31, 2009

More on Strength Training for Youth

Parents and coaches continue to express concern about the suitability of strength training for children and adolescents despite the mounting evidence that it is both safe and effective. Let's address these concerns head on:

1.Lifting weights can damage the growth plates of youngsters. In fact, such damage has never been documented with youth strength training programs which are administered and supervised by qualified professionals (CSCS certification by the NSCA). Studies of these types of programs show a very low incidence of any type of injury (Strength and Conditioning Journal 1996:18:62-75). Most injuries occur when the program is unsupervised, equipment is used improperly, attempts are made to lift too much weight and technique is poor. Lifting weights is actually a big plus to the bones of youngsters. "There is good reason to believe that the more bone mass you accumulate during childhood, the higher your eventual peak bone mass and the lower your chances of suffering osteoporotic fractures in later life." Youngsters practicing gymnastics, weight-training and other demanding sports have been shown to accumulate more bone than their less active peers (Peak Performance, December 2004, pp. 11-12).

2.The forces caused by weight training are so great that they will cause injuries. This is a concern I hear from not only parents and coaches, but physicians as well. My first response is always, "Did you fail physics class?" The reality is that the forces placed on a child's musculoskeletal system while playing sports or even recreational physical activity (playground) far exceed that of any during strength training - even if the training were to include a maximal lift attempt (which it should not!).

3.Kids will not derive any benefit from strength training before puberty. Children can gain strength with proper training before puberty (Strength and Conditioning Journal 1996:18:62-75). Vertical jump, standing long jump, sprint and agility times all improve in this age group with proper training. In addition, strength training is recommended as part of a pre-conditioning program. Studies show that the incidence of overuse injuries sustained by young athletes could be reduced by 50% if more emphasis was placed on the development of fundamental fitness abilities before sports participation. Relative newcomers to a sport are significantly MORE likely to be injured than individuals who have been training for many years (American Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 16(3), pp. 285-294, 1988, and also Archives of Internal Medicine, vol. 149 (11), pp. 2565-2568, 1989). The 2003-2004 NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook states: "Preseason Preparation: The student-athlete should be protected from premature exposure to the full rigors of sport. Preseason conditioning should provide the student-athlete with optimal readiness by the first practice."

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