Benefits of Strength Training for kids and teens

Kids and teens who follow a strength training and exercise program cut in half their risk of sports injury and improve their sports performance. Strength training also works to increase bone density and strengthen ligaments and tendons.

And the benefits don't stop with physical health. Young athletes typically also feel better about themselves as they get stronger and meet the challenge of learning new skills. Kids who strength train may even have higher self-esteem and a lower incidence of depression.

Kids as young as 5 and 6 can participate in strength-related activities (such as push-ups and sit-ups) provided they can perform the exercises safely and follow instructions. Seven- and 8-year-olds can strength train with weights as long as they can follow the regimen safely and know to be careful in a weight room. Even small weights can cause an injury if dropped on a foot or if they are not lifted properly.

Generally speaking, if your child is ready to participate in organized sports or activities such as baseball, soccer, or gymnastics, he's ready for strength training.

This kind of program should be implemented as a preseason conditioning regimen prior to sports participation, says Avery Faigenbaum, EdD, CSCS, assistant professor in the Human Performance and Fitness Department at the University of Massachusetts - Boston. "Children today are watching 25 hours of TV a week, they're spending hours and hours on the computer, physical education is still seen as an expendable part of the school curriculum, and childhood obesity is at an all-time high," Dr. Faigenbaum says. "The physician gives them the OK to play sports, but many are not physically prepared."

Is It Safe for My Child to Strength Train?
As with any sports or exercise program, it's important that your child visit his doctor for a physical exam before beginning a strength-training regimen. Once your child's doctor lets you know it's OK for him to strength train, you'll need to make sure that your child will be properly supervised, using safe equipment, and following an age-appropriate routine.

Adult programs should not be adapted for children; these programs can be too strenuous and monotonous for this young audience. Programs should model the way kids play on a playground, typically 30-second intervals with breaks between, with warm-up periods before training and cool-down periods after training.

A common concern associated with youth strength training is the belief that this kind of exercise could damage the growth plates. Growth plates are made up of a layer of cartilage near the end of a bone where most of the bone's growth occurs. Although a few case studies have reported growth plate fractures in children who lifted weights, most of these injuries occurred as a result of improper training or unsupervised weightlifting in which children were lifting too much weight.

"Growth plate injuries have not occurred in any youth strength training study that followed established training guidelines," Dr. Faigenbaum says. "In fact, recent findings suggest that strength training during childhood and adolescence may actually make bones stronger."

Another concern erroneously associated with strength training is the use of anabolic steroids. Some young and professional athletes abuse these drugs to build muscles and improve athletic performance and appearance even though the use of such drugs poses severe risks to physical and psychological health and can be illegal. But steroids are not a component of youth strength-training programs.

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