What are the considerations and benefits associated with weight training in children and adolescents, and what is an appropriate age for them to start such training?
Weight training in children and adolescents can be safe and beneficial when delivered, programmed, and monitored by qualified professionals. This form of training has been associated with improved biomechanics, increased muscle strength, and enhanced overall function. Well-rounded strength and conditioning programs, encompassing elements like resistance training, motor skill and balance training, speed and agility training, along with adequate rest, can reduce the likelihood of injuries by up to 50%. The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, NSCA, and UKSCA all advocate for the positive effects of appropriately conducted weight training.
Children and adolescents engaging in weight training may experience improvements in motor skills, muscle strength, power, running speed, agility, and endurance. However, it's essential to consider the growth and maturation factors, particularly during the adolescent growth spurt when the risk of lower limb injuries peaks. Disproportionate growth rates among structural tissues, coupled with marked increases in body mass, height, and center of mass, can lead to excessive loading on the musculoskeletal system. The "window of opportunity" for developing motor skills before puberty underscores the importance of initiating weight training during pre- and early-pubertal stages, as evidenced by studies showing significantly greater gains in motor skills in this age group compared to adolescents. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) emphasizes emotional maturity, competence in balance and postural control as prerequisites for children engaging in weight training, aligning with the consensus that age alone is not the sole determinant for readiness.
This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course, Youth Weight Training by Carol Mack, PT, DPT, SCS, CSCS, PN-1