OakLeaf Medical Network Healthy Viewpoints, Winter 2003
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Jeanne Brown

Strength Training Guidelines
for your Child

By Jeanne Brown, Licensed Athletic Trainer

It is accepted that strength training is beneficial, not only to adult athletes seeking enhanced performance, but to a mature general population seeking to improve posture, bone density and strengthen muscular and connective tissue. However, controversy begins when one considers strength training for children—namely adolescents. The concern among parents and experts alike is that lifting weights may cause damage to the growing tissues of the body (i.e., growth plates of bones) and may stunt growth. In reality, the opposite is true: resistance training can actually enhance the child’s development when done properly and under careful supervision. Proper scrutiny and supervision of your child’s lifting regimen will prevent growth-plate-related injuries.

˝Lifting weightsţ isn═t the only means by which a body can achieve an increase in strength. Strength training is the act of overcoming resistance, whether it comes from a set of barbells, your own body weight or some other external force. Early in life, as your baby learns to crawl and lift his/her head up, your toddler masters stairs, or your child learns to swim, he/she is increasing strength by overcoming external forces in the environment. The key to effective strength training for the growing athlete is to develop an individual program that implements a gradual progression of resistance corresponding to that athlete’s present ability.

The following tips will help parents determine when strength training can begin for their young athlete:

1] Enlist the help of a qualified instructor to develop a program for your child’s needs. Proper technique and safety must be taught in unison.
2] Make sure your child is properly supervised at all times.
3] Do not base programs solely on chronological age. The ages of 11-13 for girls and 13-15 for boys are considered the optimum ages to begin formal training with regularly scheduled workouts. However, even pre-pubescent children can benefit from strength training using their own body weight for resistance (i.e., push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and rope climbing).
4] Emotional maturity is a key component. The child must be willing and able to accept and follow instructions.
5] Begin a weight-lifting program using a “lighter weight/higher reps’ principle. Not only will you prevent injury, but the athlete will experience success, which will encourage the child to continue. 15-20 reps per lift are recommended versus the traditional 8-12 reps for the physically mature adult.
6] A child should not lift more than three times a week, and should avoid overhead lifting that could unnecessarily strain the spine.
7] By age 14-15, the load can progressively increase; and by age 16, the child can move to entry-level adult programs. Parents can safely introduce a strength-training program for their children if the program is instructed and supervised by a qualified trainer. If the program reflects the physical and emotional maturity of the child, the obvious physical benefits will occur and the
child’s self-confidence along with self-esteem will be enhanced.

For more information, call Chippewa Valley Orthopedics Sports Medicine, High School Outreach Program > 715.832.1400