Strength Training for Kids?

Contrary to the long held belief that strength training in children is detrimental to their health, growth and development, large bodies of research have shown that, when implemented correctly the opposite is true.

There has been a lot of work done involving the effect of strength training for kids in sport. When you think about the physical demands that are put on our bodies when taking part in sports, surely it makes sense to prepare our bodies for that in order both to seek to prevent avoidable injuries and improve our performance ability. It is just the same for children.

Strength & Conditioning training isn’t immediately picking up a massive weight and throwing it overhead, nor does it begin by applying maximal loads on resistance machines.  It begins with only their bodyweight and learning/re-enforcing strong natural movement patterns and improving co-ordination and control, progressing to learning correct technique for strength exercises specific to the demands of their sport. Loads are only introduced when the individual is ready for that and then gradually increased according to their ability.

Is it safe for children? Consider the potential for risk of injury in the strength training environment compared with on the field of play. Strength training under proper qualified supervision, performing controlled movements gradually progressed at the child’s ability level in a controlled environment compared with a game of football with two (or more) children racing to win the ball which may result in a collision which is not controlled between children who may be off balance, you have to agree that the participation in the game carries more risk. But as anyone involved in coaching or playing the game at a young age will testify, these collisions rarely result in any injury. The statistics show that the injury rate in a strength training environment is far lower than even that. Research suggests that strength training actually helps reduce the occurrence of injury from the physical demands of sport by strengthening the muscles that support the joints and ligaments, and improving balance and movement control.

Consider also the change in physicality of the professionals playing at the top end of sports now compared to those 10 and 20 years ago. Football and Rugby players are prime examples of this, first and foremost they are athletes and the higher in level you go the more that Strength & Conditioning is involved in their training to allow them to perform to the best of their ability and handle the physical demands of sprinting, stopping, turning, tackling, jumping, doing all that under the pressure of an opposition player and for 90 minutes a match. To give kids the best chance of succeeding in sport it is more important than ever to give them the foundations in strength and conditioning to build from.

Here are a couple of links to some research done with youths playing football;

  1. Here is a study done on 2 groups of 8-9 year old children, one group doing ordinary football based training and the other adding some strength training.
  2. A study on a mid-season 7 week Sprint & Power training program on elite junior football players.

The first study shows the improvement in the group including strength training over the group that does not. The second study showing the performance improvement after a short mid-season strength program.