Updated: Jun 25, 2020
Should Young Sports Children and Adolescents Lift Weights?
Strength training for young athletes remains a misunderstood area amongst many athletes, parents, health practitioners and coaches.
Erroneous beliefs, practices and misinformation around the realities and science of strength training for children and adolescents has resulted in strength and conditioning largely being neglected or not optimised in these age groups.
For children, The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends between two to three strength training session per week on non-consecutive days, under the supervision of a responsible adult. In the UK, the NHS guidelines state that on three days a week children aged 5-18 should perform bodyweight exercises to develop strong bones and muscles.
Despite common belief and opinion, there is no harm to a young or adolescent athlete incorporating strength and conditioning work into their training.
1. Benefits of Strength Training.
Following an age appropriate strength training plan can help children to increase body awareness, muscle strength, motor skills, bone strength and self-confidence, as well as decreasing the risk of injuries – and these are only a handful of the benefits.
Children are naturally more flexible and mobile which gives them a greater range of motion when they are moving. For example, most children can comfortably sit in a squat position and many will adopt this as their natural seated position. An optimal strength training programme makes daily functional movements easier to do, like bending down to pick something up, jumping over a puddle or carrying a heavy object.
From a sports performance perspective, stronger young athletes will be better prepared to learn complex movements, master sport tactics, and withstand the demands of long term sports training and competition.
Children who perform regular strength exercises can sprint faster, jump higher and excel when playing sport which will make them better athletes and increase their confidence when playing sport.
2. What age should Children and Adolescents start strength training?
In all honestly, there is no definitive age for a child to start strength training. However, if a child is participating in sporting activities then they are ready to perform some sort of strength exercises. The most important thing is that children can listen to instructions and follow directions. It’s crucial that children perform these activities safely and they are age appropriate normally starting with bodyweight exercises.
The International Olympic Committee released a 2015 Consensus Statement for youth athletic development and they stated that young athletes should be encouraged to participate in regular varied strength and conditioning programs that are suitably age based, quality technique driven, safe and enjoyable.
Resistance training should be included in the programs of all young athletes sessions and should be supervised, with a focus on technique and the quality of movement.