|Resistance Training for Youth: 10 Tips for Success
By Zachary Mang, M.S. and Len Kravitz, PhD
Resistance training in young populations has long been a polarizing topic with personal trainers. Many misconceptions exist about injury rates, training techniques and overall safety pertaining to resistance training in youth. It is important that fitness professionals realize the benefits from safe implementation of youth resistance training (See Factors That Improve in Youth as a Result of Resistance Training). According to Faigenbaum and Myer (2010a), "Current research indicates that resistance training can be a safe, effective and worthwhile activity for children and adolescents provided that qualified professionals supervise all training sessions and provide age-appropriate instruction on proper lifting procedures and safe training guidelines." This brief review will provide an overview on resistance training in youth, and deliver practical applications for trainers desiring to work with this population.
Table 1: Factors That Improve In Youth as a Result of Resistance Training
2) Sports performance
3) Muscle Endurance
4) Body Composition and weight control
5) Insulin sensitivity
6) Attitude toward lifetime physical activity
7) Motor skill performance
8) Sports-related injury risk
9) Blood lipid profile
10) Bone mineral density
Source: Faigenbaum and Myer, 2010b.
Clarity of Resistance Training for Youth
Resistance training for youth encompasses a specialized program of physical conditioning using a broad range of resistance loads, movement velocities and exercise modalities, such as machines, free weights, bands, plyometrics and medicine balls (Faigenbaum and Myer 2010a). This is not to be confused with powerlifting and weightlifting sports, which require persons to train with near maximal loads. Faigenbaum and Myer add that youth resistance training should also be distinguished from the sport of bodybuilding, which aims to develop definition, size and symmetry.
The Safety Data on Youth Resistance Training
In their review of the literature, Faigenbaum and Myer (2010a) summarize that the research shows resistance training is safe and effective for children and adolescents following age-appropriate resistance training guidelines. These programs include single-set and multi-set training protocols using various types of equipment. Faigenbaum and Myer add that data show youth resistance training programs may also result in significant gains in strength. In addition, maximal strength testing has been shown to be safe for healthy boys and girls following established guidelines by qualified professionals. Faigenbaum and Myer (2010a) highlight that some of the forces youth are exposed to in recreational activities and sports (e.g., running, rugby, gymnastics) are much greater in duration and magnitude than maximal strength tests. Importantly, injury to growth cartilage has not been reported in any youth training study that provided appropriate instruction. The risk of growth plate injury is much more likely in some competitive sports, where ground reaction forces are 5 to 7 times body mass (Faigenbaum and Myer 2010a). When responding to safety questions asked by concerned parents whether resistance is appropriate for their child, personal trainers should reply that youth resistance training has some degree of inherent risk of musculoskeletal injury, but this risk has not been shown to be any greater than participation in other youth sports and recreational activities.
Ten Evidence-Based Strategies For Implementing a Youth Resistance Training Program
Two comprehensive review of literatures (Faigenbaum & Myer, 2010a; Faigenbaum & Myer, 2010b) provide some broad sweeping guidelines that personal trainers can use as a foundation to initiating a youth resistance training program. Key concepts and ideals to include are the following:
1) The youth beginning the resistance training need to demonstrate the maturity to consistently follow and accept coaching directions responsibly.
2) Youth should always wear appropriate resistance training clothing that does not restrict movement. Proper athletic footwear, with good foot and ankle support, should be worn to help safeguard good support and traction.
3) All resistance training sessions should begin with a dynamic warm-up activity. For example, include multi-planar exercises that enhance range of motion, balance, and overall kinesthetic (sense of body position in motion). A few useful examples would be skipping, single leg balances, hopping and various forms of unilateral and bilateral jumping.
3) Resistance training sessions should include exercises for the major muscles groups of the body including the core musculature.
4) There is no one combination of exercise selection, sets and repetitions that has been shown in the literature to be superior for muscular adaptation in youth. In fact, the data suggest that combining several different approaches (i.e., multifaceted training combinations) are most successful for enhancing movement mechanics, functional abilities and muscular strength. Systematically varying the training program will minimize the potential for overtraining and sports-related injuries. Trainers are encouraged to think outside the box and be creative with their exercise programing. For instance, blending medicine ball exercises with traditional resistance training is a highly effective combination. Also, include high-intensity intermittent activities, specifically involving sprints, jumps and medicine ball throws, will improve many components of fitness while avoiding training boredom.
5) If possible, preparatory resistance training should be initiated prior to beginning competitive sports participation. Additionally, inquire how many sports and how much practice the youth is currently doing. The addition of resistance training (and how much) should then be carefully measured so it does not contribute to chronic repetitive stress on the developing musculoskeletal body.
6) The emphasis on the resistance training sessions should be on learning the proper exercise technique. The initiation of progressive overload may begin once the youth demonstrates proper lifting mechanics.
7) As with any training environment, personal trainers should warrant the workout area is properly ventilated and free of any potential hazards.
8) Monitoring the youth's ability to handle the stress of the workout. Be ready to modify if the youth does not seem to tolerate the training stimulus. Monitor how the youth recovers after each exercise and set. Monitor the progression of a youth's neuromuscular capabilities and adaptation to the training program.
9) Resistance training, as with many sports and recreational activities, is a challenge to the body. Personal trainers should definitely spend quality time discussing why proper nutrition, hydration, recovery and sleep are important.
10) Plyometric training can be relatively safe and effective for including in the conditioning training for youth. The research suggests it should be sensibly progressed over time.
Are There Special Considerations for Training Girls?
Faigenbaum & Myer (2010b) summarize that research findings indicate that young female athletes adapt best to multifaceted resistance training programs. The researchers highlight that programs including total body resistance training, postural balance, body position while moving (i.e., proprioception), and plyometrics (with focus on jumping and landing mechanics) have been shown to improve movement biomechanics and lower body strength in adolescent girls. Resistance training with young females is best if it is progressed with their growth and development.
What About Integrative Neuromuscular Training for Youth?
A unique employment of youth resistance training is called integrative neuromuscular training (INT) (Faigenbaum et al., 2011). An INT program will include specific exercises to improve health-related (i.e., muscular strength and cardiorespiratory endurance), skill-related (e.g., balance, agility, coordination) components of fitness, and fundamental movement skills (e.g., locomotor, object-control and stability). This movement training approach targets the development of motor skills and muscular fitness in a socially supportive environment for boys and girls.
Final Thoughts: It's time to Embrace Resistance Training for Youth
Resistance training is a safe, fun, and effective training modality for young boys and girls. When designing exercise programs for youth, consider the neuromuscular competency of the child and focus on mastering movement patterns before progressing in volume and intensity. The options for resistance training in young populations are essentially limitless. Thus, fitness professionals are encouraged to create dynamic and enjoyable training programs that capture the attention and imagination of their young clients!
Side Bar #1: What is Exercise Deficit Disorder in Youth?
Faigenbaum and Meyer (2012) recap recent epidemiological reports show that today's youth are not as active as previous generations. And, as with adults, physical activity is a major marker for optimal health. Faigenbaum and Meyer suggest that today's youth are not being exposed to enough opportunities to develop their running, skipping, hopping and jumping skills. Many of today's youth have exercise deficit disorder or EDD. This is a disorder used to describe a condition characterized by reduced levels of regular physical activity. Current activity guidelines suggest that youth should get 60 minutes of moderately vigorous physical activity on a daily basis. Not getting this recommended activity results in the progression of risk factors that will manifest as the youth becomes an adult. Faigenbaum and Meyer highlight that school-based interventions and after-school programs are very effective in improving physical activity levels and combatting EDD. The researchers suggest that in addition to getting children more active, programs to combat EDD should include fundamental moving skills that provide movement challenges to the youth while also building character and self-confidence.
Zack Mang, M.S. is a youth baseball coach in Albuquerque, NM and a doctoral student in Exercise Science at the University of New Mexico. His research interests include metabolic adaptations to HIIT, resistance training interventions in obese youth populations, and molecular adaptations to exercise as they pertain to health and fitness.
Len Kravitz, PhD, CSCS, is the program coordinator of exercise science and a researcher at the University of New Mexico, where he received the Outstanding Teacher of the Year award. In addition to being a 2016 inductee into the National Fitness Hall of Fame, Len was awarded the 2016 CanFitPro Specialty Presenter Award.
Faigenbaum, A.D. and Myer, G.D. (2010a). Resistance training among young athletes: safety, efficacy and injury prevention effects. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44:56-63.
Faigenbaum, A.D. and Myer, G.D. (2010b). Pediatric resistance training: Benefits, concerns and program design considerations. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 9(3), 161-168.
Faigenbam, A.D., Farrell, A., Fabiano, M. et al. (2011). Effects of integrative neuromuscular training on fitness performance in children, Pediatric Exercise Science, 23, 573-584.
Faigenbaum, A.D. and Myer, G.D. (2012) Exercise deficit disorder in youth: play now or pay later. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 11(4), 196-200.