Should young athletes lift weights?

As a fitness equipment supplier across Australia a question we get asked a lot is “should kids lift weights”? First things first here’s a few reasons why children should exercise in general. It improves cardiovascular health, develops muscle strength, decreases body fat, increases concentration and alertness, can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, boosts energy levels and can foster feelings of hapiness. Exercise is awesome right? So why do the old hang ups still exist when it comes to kids lifting weights?

You may also like: Lifting Weights Can Be A Daunting Experience, It Doesn’t Have To Be Like That

Lifting weights
Lifting weights

We’ve asked expert Strength and Conditioning Coach Andy Maynard to dispell a few myths for us and explain why young athletes should be lifting weights.

Firstly, let me start by saying there are many myths in this world and my message to youngsters looking at athletic development is to speak to and seek out qualified and experienced strength and conditioning coach with a background in exercise and sports science. 

Good coaches know how to lead you through the steps appropriately, and like most things you pay for what you get, so my advice is invest in yourself with a coach who understands the process, has invested in their education and is someone who you can trust for the short and long term. Suffice to say a good coach knows how to improve the here and now and put the pieces of the puzzle together for the bigger picture.

More to the point, an article from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) which is the American figurehead in strength and conditioning, published the following in a position statement.

It is the current position of the NSCA that: 

1. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program is relatively safe for youth. 

2. Can enhance the muscular strength and power of youth. 

3. Can improve the cardiovascular risk profile of youth. 

4. Can improve motor skill performance and may contribute to enhanced sports performance of youth. 

5. Can increase a young athlete’s resistance to sports related injuries. 

6. Can help improve the psycho social well-being of youth. 

7. Can help promote and develop exercise habits during childhood and adolescence  

(Rhodri S Lloyd, 2013)

More specifically however the article addresses the age old question of will lifting weights “stunt your growth and injure you?”

It was found that there is no evidence indicating that lifting weights for prepubescent or adolescents will cause injury to growth cartilage, with evidence suggesting that potential for injury is even less likely for younger children when exposed to sheering type forces (Rhodri S Lloyd, 2013)

Needless to say, it begs the question, what is the utility in weight training for youth? 

Traditionally resistance training was presumed inappropriate for children because it was thought to be high risk. Data gathered from gym training related injuries however concluded that it was caused due to inappropriate training technique, excessive loading, poorly designed equipment, ready access to the equipment, and lack of adult supervision.

Important to note that like most other physical activities, resistance training does carry with it some inherent risk of musculo-skeletal injuries, but no more or less risk than such activities aka sport (Rhodri S Lloyd, 2013)

To add to the strength of the argument, the info graphic highlights the difference between kids who have started Strength and Conditioning pre adolescence (blue) to those who start during (red) and post (green) or never (dot), suggesting a window of opportunity worth investing in

Thus circling back the issue at hand, is it safe for kids to lift weights? Of course providing it is safe.

However the argument we should actually be discussion more and more is it safe for kids, prepubescent or adolescent who are weak (not strong or physically resilient) to play sport?

I have worked first hand with numerous children who have experienced ACL ruptures arguably due to a lack of movement, coordination, strength and physical resilience. Unfortunately the occurrence of ACL injuries is only increasing, with statistics suggesting a rise by as much as 5.6% per year with the rate of 5 – 14 year old’s increasing at the greatest rate. The total annualised hospital cost is $142 million. Asides from the surgical costs and effects to development with 12 – 24 months or more in rehabilitation, the most worrying aspect of all is the long term implications to joint health and probabilities of reoccurrence (David Zbrojkiewicz, 2018)

Needless to say, the questions and discussion needs to surround these very real issues within our sporting clubs, schools and gyms. Rather than overemphasising the myths which are so synonymous with the fitness industry, perpetrated by a lack of knowledge, education and leadership within our sports communities.

In summary, it’s important to let kids be kids and there must to be a narrative and emphasis placed upon development of general motor qualities which aren’t necessarily sport specific.

A world leading S&C coach emphasised this message recently by stating “The trend is towards specialisation and further compartmentalisation, which is a big mistake”. Buddy Morris.

As kids mature, I believe they should intertwine the maturation process with appropriate strength and conditioning practices in order to enhance these general motor qualities, increase musculoskeletal and soft tissue strength and prescriptive injury prevention exercises based upon needs in order to promote and develop a resilient, high performing athlete, who is able to withstand the rigors of competition throughout these danger periods.

The gym therefore seems the most obvious and best place to do this providing kids are presented with a

1. Safe environment to fail within, and they equate a certain level of enjoyment from it.

2. Are given broad exposure to many skills and athletic capabilities.

3. Are able to drive self-belief through instruction in order to develop competence, which is leads to challenges and progress being made at their own rate.

References

David Zbrojkiewicz, C. V. (2018). ncreasing rates of anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction in young Australians, 2000–2015. Medical Journal Australia, 354 – 358.

Rhodri S Lloyd, A. D. (2013). Position statement on youth resistance training: The 2014 International. British Journal of Sport Medicine, 1 – 12.

Science, Y. S. (2019, Aug 2). Instagram. Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/ylmsportscience/: https://www.instagram.com/ylmsportscience/

About Simon Mitchell

Simon is the Brand Manager and Head of Training at Xpeed Fitness. Simon has a Bachelor of Human Movement, is a certified FMS trainer and has worked in the fitness industry since 2003. Simon started his fitness journey as a trainer with iNform Health and Fitness before moving into commercial radio and then back into fitness with Bodyism in the United Kingdom and Australia. A career highlight was being one of the cast trainers on Star Wars IX - The Rise Of Skywalker.

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