Young athlete development: Resistance Training, is it safe?
In my experience in the sport and exercise industry, I have come across a lot of people with questions, concerns, and assumptions regarding young individuals performing resistance exercise (pre-teen). I believe it is a subject with a stigma attached to it, with differing views and opinions irrespective of what the science shows, so hopefully this article will shed some light on the area.
Resistance training is primarily used by adults to increase strength, power, and muscle hypertrophy (increase muscle mass). For pre-adolescent youths, the lack of hormones means that resistance training has very little effect on muscle hypertrophy. However strength and power gains can be made as a result of neural adaptations, and is therefore used by strength and conditioning coaches to build strength and power in specific movements which can be translated onto the track or field to promote future athletic development.
There is a common misconception among parents, teachers, and even doctors that resistance exercise is unsafe or inappropriate for youths; but there is now a significant amount of scientific evidence that supports its use by children and adolescents for a wide range of health, injury, and performance benefits (evidence cited at the bottom of the page). Long-term studies suggest that resistance exercise does not negatively affect the development of growth plates, and actually has positive effects on musculoskeletal health. Unfortunately the majority of schools are a bit behind the times when it comes to physical education, but also lack the facilities and qualified professionals with the ability to coach correct technique so the benefits are rarely utilised at an early age. Luckily, that’s where our BBG professionals come in!
In addition to fears of what resistance training will do to growth, some people dislike the idea of their children lifting heavy weights above their head with the danger of dropping weights, if you fall into this category consider the following scenario. Let’s look at the differences between two activities; a boy doing a handstand, an activity that most parents would be happy their child performing, versus a girl lifting weights over her head.
The boy on the right is holding his own bodyweight with two points of contact; two hands touching the ground with only his shoulders and core to support his upright position. Meanwhile on the left a girl is holding weight slightly greater than her own bodyweight (an extreme example), engaging the core and four points of contact; two hands holding the bar and two feet stabilising her upright position. Given this information, who do you think is in a more stable and safe position? Food for thought.
So to summarize
- Science suggests resistance exercise is safe for youths, and has no detrimental effects on growth.
- Resistant exercise can promote musculoskeletal health, and may improve athletic development.
- HOWEVER, this is under the assumption that the young athletes in question are being coached by a qualified professional who have a good understanding of Sports Science.
While all of the trainers at BBG are equipped with the experience and knowledge to train youths, if you wish to optimise athletic development and provide a foundation for the future through resistance exercise and other means, consider having a chat with some of our trainers whom specialise in strength and conditioning.
American College of Sports Medicine. ACSMs Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. 8th ed. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, Philadelphia, PA, 2010.
Baker, D., Mitchell, J., Boyle, D., Currell, S., Wilson, G., Bird, S.P., O’Connor, D. and Jones, J. Resistance training for children and youth: a position stand from the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association (ASCA). 2007.