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STRENGTH TRAINING FOR CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

Updated: Sep 20, 2020

Today, numerous research papers show the benefits children and adolescents could gain from participating in strength training. Many of these research paper have proven the misconceptions and myths about youth strength training to be incorrect.

Just as there is an abundance of myths about strength training for the youth, there is an abundance of research on how and youth strength training should be practised for optimal results. The participation of children and adolescents in various form of resistance training has been debated for the last couple of decades. There have been discussions about how resistance training could stunt growth, that children aren't able to build strength due to their lack of testosterone, and how they'll injure their "un-fused" growth plates.


Today, numerous research papers showing the benefits children and adolescents could gain from participating in strength training. Many of these research paper have proven the misconceptions and myths about youth strength training to be incorrect.


Although there is plenty of evidence to suggest that strength training is beneficial for the younger population, there is still some debate on the most optimal method that strength training should be practised. Despite there being a lack of evidence indicating the method of best practises, the literature does provide an extensive and profound foundation regarding the general guidelines of safe practice for the youth.


Since children age at different rates, biological age, it's difficult to say that a specific chronological age is appropriate to start strength training. Therefore there have been made some basic guidelines on certain abilities a child has to possess, so to speak, before given the green light to undergo strength training. Children should have a fundamental competence too:

  1. Accept and follow instructions

  2. Understand basic safety instructions

  3. Understand basic levels of balance and postural control

From there the use of bodyweight training, machine-based training, free weights, and elastic band based training can be implemented. More experienced and more biological developed children, typically older children, can train with higher intensity, greater volume, and higher frequency. Where the less experienced and less developed children will train will lower intensities, less volume, and lower frequencies.


Intensity

The intensity a child which is either new to strength training or is lacking behind in their biological development will typically do sets of 15+ repetitions, where children who are well biologically developed and have been training for a while can use intensities as low as 6 repetitions. That being said, there is evidence to supports that a greater time under tension is a better method for increasing strength in children, compared to overall load. Therefore higher repetition based training will have better results. Although there are methods of training where the loads are higher, repetitions are lower, yet time under tension is considerably higher, there is lacking evidence for this sort of training method for children and adolescents.


Frequency

Children are rapid adaptors and can adapt close to anything you throw at them. But for more optimal long term development it's important to look at the big picture. Strength training once a week will definitely have its benefits, but more would achieve greater benefits (up to a point). Now, children will often be playing several sports or be active in doing several different activities. That has to be taken into consideration as for when and how often they should be strength training. For children who do other sports more than 3 times per week, one session of strength training on the side would be greatly beneficial, however, adding another strength session might not be the best idea as this adds to the total volume of training they have to recover from. The same principles apply with frequency as it does with intensity, the better-developed child will be able to handle higher frequencies than the lesser developed child.


Volume

With intensity and frequency determined, the volume is another factor that needs to be understood for optimal results. How much total work per session/week needs to be done to achieve the greatest amount of benefits. Volume is most often quantified as the total number of sets done in a single session. With the literature being a bit sketchy on this part, the general recommendations range from 9 - 12 sets per session.

Rest periods

For optimal performance between sets and between exercises, rest periods of three minutes are considered to be a minimum. There is a low to no increase in performance when rest periods go above three minutes. Moreover, rest periods under 2 minutes have a significant impact on performance. Rest periods are also a good time for a coach to give some feedback to improve faulty or sub-optimal technique.


Youth athleticism