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Strength training for youths

Here's our strength and conditioning coach, Gordon Mowat with a comprehensive guide for parents and athletes alike about what strength training is for youths.

How young is too young to introduce strength training to children?

Will strength training stunt growth?

These are common questions which can often place barriers in the way of young athlete’s sporting progress. It is important to understand what strength training means, and how it may look for a young athlete compared to a senior athlete with more experience. The term ‘youth’ refers to both children from infancy to ages 11-13 and adolescents, aged 12-18. In recent years a great deal of literature has been produced based on research which highlights the benefits of resistance training for youths. These benefits include, but are not limited to; increased muscular strength and power output, improved body composition and bodyweight management, improved sensitivity to insulin in overweight children, improved motor control and better mental health.

The UKSCA position statement on youth resistance training (2012) states that the European network for sports injury prevention estimates that there were 1.3 million cases of sports injury requiring hospitalisation in youths under age 15. Even though the research strongly supports the use of resistance training for youths, it is largely missing from the physical education curriculum and is often ostracized from sports teams due to misconceptions around strength training and the perceived risks. Examining the literature strongly suggests that the risks of lacking strength massively outweigh the risks of developing strength.

It is important to understand that growth and maturation rates vary widely in youths, particularly between genders, where a linear natural progression in strength and motor function is seen by both males and females, until adolescence where males will see a bigger increase in natural strength due to hormonal changes. Therefore training must be suitable for the individual. Emphasis should be on developing coordination and skill using bodyweight movements prior to introducing external load. However, the training age of individuals should be taken into consideration. Where a 10 year old with two years of strength training experience may be at a more advanced level than a 16 year old with no previous experience. As skills develop and strength increases, introducing more advanced exercises with progressively heavier loads will challenge the central nervous system of young athletes and will support their progress.

Sports such as football and netball, where there are repeated jumps and explosive movements will place strain, several times greater than an athlete’s bodyweight through their joints. This places significant risk to participants where a lack of strength and motor function means that a lack of support around joints will expose them to injury.

At Physio Inverness, youths will be supported by qualified and experienced staff who can assess and prescribe suitable training based on individual requirements. We offer small group training with up to three individuals for 30-45 minute sessions. During these sessions, relevant assessments will be carried out and supervised training will focus on building strength through bodyweight movements, then progressing towards using more advanced strength training methods. Our focus will always be on achieving the best outcome for each individual at a sensible pace.

Lloyd, R.S., Faigenbaum, A.D., Myer, G.D., Stone, M., Oliver, J., Jeffreys, I., Moody, J., Brewer, C. and Pierce, K., 2012. UKSCA position statement: Youth resistance training. Prof Strength Cond, 26, pp.26-39.