The benefits of strength training for youth have long been known and enrolling your child in a strength program has been recommended by various health organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and Mayo Clinic. Despite the overwhelming evidence for the benefits of building your child’s strength with training, plenty of misconceptions still exist about youth strength training. If you have any hesitation about entering your child or teen in a strength training program, read on to take a look at some of the myths that exist and the evidence that advocates strength training for children and teens.
Myth #1 Strength training is unsafe for children.
The risks associated with strength training are less than other sports and activities in which children regularly participate. Strength training inflicts less compressive force on joints compared to other sports and activities involving running and jumping. It has been found to be an important part of fitness training for children and teens, improving multiple aspects of health and life. Strength training can have a positive effect on a child’s physical, mental, emotional, and social health. A 2010 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded, strength training can prevent injuries by strengthening bones and connective tissues like tendons and ligaments. Strength training is by design, the art of moving an object without injuring oneself. Let’s be honest, it is not possible to get through life without some sort of lifting. It is then safe to say that strength training helps protect children and teens by teaching them how to lift heavy object safely whether in sport or daily life. As long as strength training is done under control and supervision with qualified coaching, it is not only safe for children and teens, it is highly beneficial in many areas of life.
Myth #2 Strength training only benefits athletes.
While regular participation in strength training can enhance the performance of young athletes and reduce the risk of sport related injury, boys and girls of all abilities can benefit from strength training. It can put your child on a path to better health and fitness. Even if a child is not interested in sports, strength training can spark interest in physical activity. Strength training can be more desirable for children who are overweight or tend to dislike long periods of aerobic exercise. It increases a child’s muscle strength and endurance, improves balance, helps promote healthy blood pressure and can help prevent obesity, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses which are on an alarming rise. Currently more than 1/3 of American kids are overweight. Obese children are more likely to be obese adults. Active kids are more likely to remain active into adulthood. Beyond the physical benefits that strength training provides, it can have a positive effect on self-confidence and improve social skills. The Mayo Clinic conducted studies showing improved self-esteem and a decrease in the chance of depression in children and teens. Strength training instills a solid foundation for health, wellness, and fitness that children will benefit from for a lifetime.
Myth #3 Youth athletes need to play their chosen sport year-round to stay competitive
Recent studies suggest the opposite. Children who play multiple sports and strength train are more effective than those who specialize in a single sport. According to a study by Dr. Neeru Jayanthi of Loyola University, early sport specialization is one of the strongest predictors of injury in children playing sports. Athletes in a study who specialized in one sport were 70 – 93 percent more likely to be injured than children who strength train and participate in other sports. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends taking 2 – 3 months off from organized sport per year to engage in strength and conditioning training. Not only does this decrease the risk of overuse injuries, it helps prevent potential burnout, develop complimentary skills, and improve a child’s overall health.
The many misconceptions around children and teens strength training have kept a lot of parents from letting their children take part in strength training programs. Fortunately, the perception is shifting due to the mountains of research proving that strength training is good for kids. Not only is it safe, it offers a multitude of positive benefits. A sense of self- worth, confidence, lifelong improvements in overall motor skills, and better health are just a few. The goal of a good strength training program should be to promote safe training methods, teach children and teens about their bodies, and instill a lifelong love of health and fitness.
Mary Kay Richter is head trainer for the Kids Fit strength and conditioning program at Classic Fitness, and mother of 3.