For years there has been a belief that resistance training was inappropriate or even dangerous for children. This belief stems from a study performed in the 1970’s by a group of Japanese researchers that observed juvenile workers that were subjected to many hours of lifting and moving heavy objects. On average these children were shorter than their non-working counterparts. Through this observation they concluded that it was the heavy lifting at such a young age that had a negative effect on their epiphyseal plate, and in turn, resulted in a stunted growth. However, recently there has been a growing amount of evidence that suggests that resistance training for children is not only safe, but can be highly beneficial.
Researchers from the Institute of Training Science and Sports Informatics published a study that analyzed 60 years worth of studies involving children and weightlifting. The researchers found that virtually all of the children and adolescents benefited from weight training. Interestingly enough, although the older kids did have greater strength gains, compared to the younger kids the difference wasn’t significant. This study also found that, contrary to popular belief, there was no sizable difference in strength increases once the children hit puberty. There was however a difference in hypertrophy (increase in muscle mass) that was likely due to the amount of testosterone in the adolescent population. Because of the lack of noticeable size gains in children, many researchers in the past had concluded that weightlifting wasn’t an effective training method for the youth.
So how young is too young to start resistance training? The jury is still out on this question, though most scientific literature seems to point to ages 6-8. Resistance training at this age should involve body weight exercises or very light loads with emphasis on control and form. Squats using a wooden dowel or push-ups are a common method of training children at this age. Heavy loads (without proper progression) or exercises that involve ballistic movements should be avoided when training children.
For more information on youth resistance training please contact Will Paton.