I’m an advocate of strength training for children and teenagers; however, I also know that, as with adults, adding a heavy load too quickly, or having poor form or technique, can cause many problems for children.
Studies have proved that basic strength or resistance programmes on youths actually help reduce injury through the release of HGH (Human Growth Hormone). Even more advanced programmes are also being accepted in the fitness and medical communities now, as multi-hinged movements have been shown to stimulate more testosterone release in boys and, even to a lesser degree, in girls, which correlates to overall increase in force production, i.e. faster, stronger etc..
Teaching proper technique requires attention to detail, and above all, patience. Neither the student nor coach should accept nothing less than picture perfect technique, before progression happens.
During sport, each time a child jumps on one or two legs they are generating 2-3 times the force of their bodyweight through their legs, core and entire body. Repeat this process for 40-60 minutes of a game per week with 1-2 practices and that is lot of force that the child is generating through their body, not to mention, if the youth is doing the movements bio-mechanically incorrectly, then is there any wonder that the youth gets injured around the ages of 11-14 years old?
I’m an advocate of using total body movements with youngsters, such as a shoulder press with a squat or lunges with a rotation, holding a medicine ball. This creates load and also has a direct correlation to their sport. Most if not all sports, use a lunge with rotation, such as tennis, rugby, football and netball.
When a child begins to strength train, the first thing they are taught is correct movement; squats (jump), lunges (running), step ups (jump off 1 foot), pushing (fend and defend, forehand in tennis, defense in all sports etc.), pulling (tackle, backhand in tennis), pressing (front on tackle, overhead slam), gait (walking, running, sprinting, multi - directional movement). Only when form is impeccable on these exercises, is weight added.
I also hear sometimes that there is a potential to damage kids’ tendons & ligaments, but strength training actually has the opposite effect. If done correctly, it can help to strengthen tendons and ligaments to prevent injury happening in the first place. This is due to the fact that we teach children how to move properly under load and speed, therefore when they are on the tennis court hitting a great return, they’ll know where to position their body in order to not sprain an ankle. Same goes for rugby, netball, football, athletics etc. Once a child is educated on how to move properly, with speed and agility, they are less likely to get hurt.
Last week, a client also asked me if strength training would make their child obese! I’m not really sure where this myth stems from, however we’ve had obese children who have trained with us and after 6-12 months, they are leaner, stronger and are of regular weight, just like all the other kids of their age.
Because of resistance training, these kids have actually increased lean muscle mass, melted fat and as a consequence have really trimmed down as their metabolism is boosted. Coupled with a diet of "real food" these children have returned to normal weight and their confidence is boosted immensely. It gives kids real confidence.
Nobody likes being the last one to be picked for a team!