Training strength in children, why not?

Strength. Just naming it recalls barbells loaded to the limit, muscles hypertrophy and tough training schedules. But when is it right to start a strength training? This question does not refer to the periodization for muscle mass or for a sports competition, the question is a priori: at what age is it right to start training strength?
Before you were an athlete, before you were a sportsman, before you were just an adult, everyone was a child. Is it right to train at that age? And what kind of training should/can be done?
Small child with boxing gloves

Strength in children and adolescents

Talking about strength training in children is still a taboo subject. There are many coaches, trainers and even professionals specialized in health care (orthopedists, doctors, physiotherapists, etc..) who do not recommend this type of activity until the complete development has taken place.
Full family trains in the gym
There are many fears: growth block, accidents, injuries to the epiphyseal plates that have yet to close, etc. This lack of culture was born because of the lack of knowledge about training that existed decades ago and was probably fed by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, through its National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) which, between 1991 and 1996, estimated the number of injuries associated with strength training equipment.

Prejudices behind strength training in young people
The NEISS data do not specify the cause of injuries, nor do they separate recreational activities from injuries due to weightlifting workouts. The large numbers declared by NEISS concerning injuries to individuals under the age of 21 have fueled the fear encountered when approaching young people and weights. The lack of knowledge on the subject, of many professionals close to children and sport, has helped to strengthen the idea that weight training should begin only at the end of skeletal maturation.
Small baby hits boxing bag with American flag
To date, the major political and health research organizations around the world, NSCA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology just to name a few, are in total agreement that strength training in youth is appropriate, and that it does not interfere in any way with the linear growth of children.

Talking about strength training in children is still a taboo subject.

To support their ideas there are a lot of review (the most reliable scientific documents in the world) that support how recommended it is to train strength since childhood.

Pre-pubertal strength training and risk of injury

Strength training for children and adolescents is avoided because it is thought that unsustainable overloads will be used preferring to turn to other sports, in the same way, those who teach football, basketball, volleyball, etc.. often neglect the strength component in training with their young students to avoid risks of injury.
Kid jumps rope
Statistics compiled by SAFE KIDS and the European Academy of Pediatrics show that 62% of injuries under the age of 21 are caused by organized sports (football, rugby, volleyball, etc..). Consumer Product Safety shows that in America most injuries in children between 5 and 14 years of age are due to football (a sport not as widespread as in Europe) and only half to basketball, less than a tenth to ice hockey.
In Italy, 46% of sports injuries are due to football, while the percentage in other sports falls below 8%.
As a further report shows, the overall injury rate per 100 hours/participant was 0.8 for rugby and 0.0120 for  resistance training.

The purpose of the above numbers and studies is not to denigrate any sport, or to insinuate fears that have no reason to exist, but to show how each activity has its own risk indexes, which increase significantly if those who manage it are not a competent person.

Teacher and little pupil train on stretching
The purpose of the above numbers and studies is not to denigrate any sport, or to insinuate fears that have no reason to exist, but to show how each activity has its own risk indexes, which increase significantly if those who manage it are not a competent person.

The benefits of strength training in prepubertal age

The guidelines for strength training in children and adolescents do not recommend exercises with intensities equal to or close to 1RM, but it is not difficult to find even greater overloads during some moments of the games organized: think of the forces acting at knee level in a sudden change of direction or abrupt deceleration.
Girl playing throwing punches with gloves
  • Helps prevent injuries. Muscle strengthening alone will not eliminate them completely (since they have multifactorial causes) but will certainly reduce their incidence: to avoid injuries to LCA in football, sessions of strength combined with plyometric exercises are recommended. Great benefit can be found for the rotator cuff muscles in sports such as swimming, baseball, tennis, and so on.
  • It improves the athletic skills of those who practice it, however, is not directly related to the improvement of performance, which depends heavily on the coordination and proper execution of the technical gesture.
  • The best state of health achieved by training against resistance can also be maintained more easily by adults.
  • Aerobic workouts combined with strength training have a better impact on children's bodies in terms of weight loss.
  • Strengthens bones by promoting proper development.
  • Increases confidence and self-esteem.

After 8-12 weeks of training, strength in children can increase from 30 to 50%, thanks to neuromuscular adaptations.

Guidelines for strength training

Boxing training. This sport helps a lot to train strength and agility.
To ensure safe workouts it is necessary to have one trainer for every 10 children present. Prefer free body weight exercises or exercises with small tools, because the machines are calibrated for adults and often the possibility of varying the weight is 5kg at a time, a range too large for a child.
14 masures for proper strength training:

  • Before starting any kind of sport activity, contact your paediatrician, if you have the knowledge to evaluate the training that will be followed by the child. Alternatively, go to the sports doctor.
  • There is no correct age to begin with. The child is required to be able to listen to his/her teacher and to follow the training independently. Generally, this happens around the age of 7-8 years.
  • Each workout should include 5 to 10 minutes of both warm-up and after the workout.
  • Focus on technical skill before loading, stop the exercise as soon as you notice errors in the execution of movements.
Kickboxing e sport lotta aiutano ad allenare la propriocezione e il core
  • Part of the training should focus on proprioception, balance and strengthening of the core muscles. Always start with simple exercises and stable surfaces (although soft to avoid risks in case of falls) and then increase the difficulty to use proprioceptive boards, bosu, etc..
  • Training should take place 2-3 times a week on non-consecutive days, using 8-12 exercises that include muscle groups from the whole body. Always start with exercises involving large muscle groups, and then devote yourself to the rest.
Whole family does exercises with small weights
  • Give the same emphasis to both flexor and extensor muscles, both at the top and bottom of the body.
  • 1-2 series for 8-15 repetitions per muscle group are sufficient, with at least one minute of recovery. If you are unable to perform at least 8 repetitions you must decrease the load to gradually increase it when you have had strength gains. Once you have done 15 repetitions with good form, you may want to increase the overload of the exercise by increasing it from 5 to 10%.
  • All major muscle groups should be included in the training program and the child should be trained in the full range of possible movements for each joint.
  • Stopping strength training programs, even when you resume your sport, leads to a gradual decrease in strength until your child fully regresses to pre-workout levels (after 8 weeks).

Each workout should include 5 to 10 minutes of both warm-up and cool-down.

  • Training strength during specific sports training will not give the same advantages as when special sessions are dedicated.
  • To improve general fitness state it is always better to perform both aerobic and counter-resistance training.
  • Any signs of injury or illness resulting from strength training must be evaluated by a specialist before training can resume.

Strength for children, safe workouts

For years the world of science has recognized as safe strength training even for children and pre-adolescents. Often we are afraid that a child can get hurt by lifting a weight without thinking that in his life he continuously performs acts that overload the back and joints: jumps, changes of direction in running, carrying the backpack, etc..
Football has a higher accident rate than other sports considered more risky for injuries
Problems can also arise from children sitting for hours at school, a position that reversing the lumbar curve decreases by half the capacity of resistance of the spine, creating back pain and various paramorphism.

In short, learning to lift a weight correctly and perform strength exercises will teach the child to move more consciously, and will ensure a more solid muscles that can withstand the trauma, often unexpected, to which it may incur.

There is no need to worry if the children move and practice any physical activity (especially if under the guidance of experienced people), what should be scary is when the opposite happens, when they stop moving. Movement is health at all ages.

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