Australian Strength & Conditioning Association's Position Stand: Resistance Training for Children and Adolescents

Australian Sports Conditioning (ASC) often recommends that children in competitive sport perform resistance training, however this is often met with skepticism by parents and coaches who believe that children and adolescents should not strength train. This notion is unfounded and the peer reviewed research suggests that there is no lower age limit for children to strength train. The Australian Strength & Conditioning Association has released a position stand on this subject. It is lengthy and makes specific recomendations. ASC will be sumarising this position stand over the coming months. Should you wish to view the entire article now please follow this link: ASCA Position Stand: Resistance Training for Children and Adolescents

Introduction

Strength training in children and adolescents has been a major area of controversy for over 30 years. Over the coming months we will review the ASCA position stand: Resistance training for children and youth. This is a comprehensive literature review from the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association.

A significant amount of research has been performed on this issue through such reputable bodies as the American Academy Pediatrics (AAP), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). All of the above organisations have developed various position papers on the issue but have failed to give specific advice to parents, coaches and teachers. The questions such as “What is the youngest a child can begin strength training? How much is too much? How often is too often? What kind of exercises should children do?” all remain unsatisfactorily answered. This is not because the research has not been done but because the organizations involved do not wish to give direct guidelines. For example the AAP gives the following advice:

“A general strengthening program (for a child) should address all major muscle groups and exercise through the complete range of motion.” (AAP 2001 p 1471).

This advice while correct does not assist exercise prescribers in developing programs specifically for children. The ASCA’s position stand aims to give parents, coaches and teachers specific advice on designing and implementing strength training for children. Through the course of the next few months Australian Sports Conditioning will summarise this position stand to assist coaches in this area.

The position stand is divided into the following sections:

  1. The appropriate age to commence strength training – how young is too young?
  2. Training intensity – How heavy is too heavy?
  3. Program design for the following age groups: 6-9 years, 9-12 years, 12-15 years and 15-18 years. Model programs will be included as well as reciommendations on progression of the program.
  4. Injuries, how they are caused, and prevention strategies
  5. Relevant legal cases
  6. Nutrition and recovery specific to children
  7. Overall Summary

This position stand while making specific recommendations about strength training for children and adolescents also acknowledges that each child is an individual and a one size fits all approach will not be appropriate. This is where the guidance of a qualified strength and conditioning coach is required.

How young is too young?

It is often asked by parents and teachers; when can a child begin strength training? Or to prohibit their child from weight training with the belief that harm will come to the child. To answer this question Sadres and colleagues (2001) conducted a long-term training study on boys aged between 9 and 10 years. The study compared 22 boys who weight trained over a period of 21 months (including 3 months where there was no training due to school holidays) with 22 similar boys who participated in regular school sport. Both groups performed some kind of structured physical activity 2 times per week. The exercises in the weight training group involved a number of classical lifts that are often associated with athletic training such as clean pulls, jerk, squats, snatch and so on. In the first year training load varied between 30 and 70% of 1RM with a mean of 50% and in the second year load varied from 50 to 70% of 1RM with a mean of 60%. Improvements were in the magnitude of 1% per week. Height and weight increases were similar for both groups. In the course of the study only one injury was recorded where a bar fell on the thighs of the child. The injury was deemed minor and the child resumed training in the same session. It is important to realize that this study had a high level of expert supervision from strength and conditioning coaches and progressions were systematic and conservative with a lot of time spent on technique before any significant weight was used. This study demonstrated that 9-10 year old boys could safely perform resistance training. Other studies also support resistance training in children as young as 6-8 years (Falk and Mor, 1996), 6-12 years (Faigenbaum et al. 2003). Faigenbaum, (2002 p 32) made the most important point in regards to children and resistance training:

“Although there is no minimum age requirement for participation in a youth resistance-training program, all participants should have the emotional maturity to accept and follow direction and should genuinely appreciate the potential benefits and risks associated with youth strength training.”

Position of the ASCA on appropriate training age

If a child is mentally mature enough to participate in organized sport then they are generally ready to participate in a supervised strength-training program. The key aspect is that while a child may be ready to participate in strength training when they enter school around the age of 6 years, the actual age will be determined by the child’s individual mental maturity. The key assessment here is to judge if the child can follow clear directions and have the concentration span to stay on task. Some children may view the weights room as a play area, swinging off equipment and so on. This is where the real potential for injury lies as there are heavy loose objects, places to trap fingers and so on. So while strength training per se is not dangerous for children, the environment may be, if adequate supervision is absent.

The ASCA states that the youngest a child should begin strength training is 6 years of age, assuming that the child has the maturity to obey directions and act safely in a gym environment.

References

For the full article go to the following link:

Australian Strength & Conditioning Association's Position Stand: Resistance Training for Children and Adolescents

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