Strength training for children and adolescents – iron fitness

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Strength training with children and adolescents has been a controversial topic in recent decades. Among other things, a position paper published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1983 concluded that resistance training is extremely dangerous for adolescents. This thesis was based – and was further supported later – on the basis of studies and case reports that reported injuries to the musculoskeletal system and the growth plates as well as a general increase in injuries in connection with strength training.

In contrast, a convincingly large proportion of current research results not only indicate that strength training is safe for children and adolescents, but also highly recommended, as it has a whole range of positive effects on health and performance also at Adolescents. In order to shed some light on this topic, which is still a controversial topic today, we will look at the current state of knowledge regarding the risks and benefits of strength training for children and adolescents.

What are the risks of strength training with children and adolescents??

Like any other sport and physical activity, strength training involves a certain degree of risk of injury to the musculoskeletal system. However, the current state of research clearly shows that the risk of injury during strength training is rather lower if you compare it with other sports or leisure activities that children and adolescents practice (Table 1):

table 1. Injury rates in various US sports per 100 hours of practice. (Hamill, B.P., 1994)

The statistics also show that the risk for adolescents is lower than for adults. And of the few injuries in children and adolescents that are associated with strength training, 77.2% are caused by accidents that have occurred due to errors in the implementation and planning of the training. This includes things such as incorrect exercise execution, the choice of excessive loads, poor equipment and no or unqualified adult supervision. Therefore, it can be concluded that these injuries could most likely have been prevented by better / more qualified supervision, a greater focus on training safety and safety guidelines for the young athletes. The following table provides an overview of the possible risk factors for strength training with suggestions on how to make training safer:

Illustration 1. Percentage distribution of injuries in children / adolescents or adults (according to Myer et al., 2009)

table 2. Modifiable risk factors in connection with strength training injuries in children and Young people who can be reduced or even eliminated through qualified care and instructions (modified from Faigenbaum et al., 2011)

Similar research results and recommendations have been made regarding strength plate injuries to growth / epiphyseal plates in children and adolescents. Although these can always be possible, as in any other sport, they generally occur as a result of a lack of safety measures and / or poor care put a low risk potential for strength training for adolescents. A position paper of the Canadian Society for Training Physiology clearly emphasizes that a fracture of an epiphyseal plate in children / adolescents has never been detected during a strength training intervention, provided that a reasonable weight progression and qualified care were given.

In addition to the fear of injuries to the growth plate, there is also often the fear that adolescents would have reduced growth potential if they were already doing resistance training at a young age. Again, there are no scientific results that could support this hypothesis. For example, a study by the research group Sadres et al. the effect of long-term, 21-month strength training in prepubertal boys showed no adverse effects on growth in comparison with a control group of the same age. On the contrary, if science can say one thing with certainty, it is that physical activity is essential for the normal growth and development of children and adolescents.

What are the benefits of strength training for children and adolescents??

Contrary to the unnecessary fear of injuries and a reduced growth potential and, the research agrees that strength training during growth provides the opportunity to optimize the development of bone mass, structure and strength. In addition, higher muscle strength seems to cause a lower risk of fracture even in well-trained, well-developed children. Various studies have also shown a reduction in the likelihood of sports-related injuries in children if they practice structured strength training in addition to their sport. Significantly faster regeneration / healing processes were also found in this context. Considering that the typical daily exercise activities of adolescents, such as Walking, running, jumping and landing shock loads from simple to 4.5 times the body weight per leg (Figure 2), it quickly becomes clear how important the muscular strengthening of the entire body is for physical activities. Generally speaking, the musculoskeletal system of adolescents nowadays seems to be poorly prepared for physical exertion and strength training therefore offers the possibility of significantly reducing the susceptibility to injury of young athletes. A meta-analysis by Behringer et al. also emphasizes that strength training not only reduces the risk of injury to adolescents, but also has the potential to improve motor skills and abilities. The researchers found positive effects of various strength training programs on running, jumping and throwing performance in children and adolescents. The analyzed training programs included various set and repetition schemes as well as exercise methods (strength machines, free weights, body weight, medicine balls, resistance bands, plyometric training). This variability emphasizes that the positive effects are not tied to a specific exercise protocol and certain exercises. If the goal is an optimal or maximum performance improvement, the literature recommends a combination of weight and plyometric training. Since running, jumping and throwing are fundamental skills for almost every sport, one can assume a positive transfer for the specific sporting performance in young athletes. This can also be supported by research results that have shown improvements in various sport-specific performance variables (speed development, sprint performance, agility) in youth football players as a result of strength training. However, due to the complexity of many sports and especially game sports, it is always difficult to make clear statements regarding the effect of strength training on specific performance.

Illustration 2. Active ground reaction forces (as a multiple of body weight) in children with various forms of activity. The values ​​refer to a single leg. (Gunter et al., 2012)

Summary / recommendation

In summary, we can state that the fears and prejudices regarding strength training for children and adolescents are unfounded and therefore can be classified as wrong. In addition to the fact that strength training is even safer than most other physical and sporting activities, it offers adolescents numerous positive effects, ranging from increased injury resistance to increased performance to health-related improvements. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize that qualified care, sensible instructions, guidelines and progressions are a basic requirement for the safe and successful participation of adolescents in strength training.

Organizations such as the English (UKSCA) and American (NSCA) Society for Strength and Endurance Training provide safety guidelines and training recommendations with the aim of helping trainers to carry out an appropriate and safe caft training with children and adolescents (Tables 3 and 4).

table 3. Recommendations and guidelines for safe and promising strength training with children and adolescents. (* Summarized and modified according to guidelines of Faigenbaum et al., 2009 and Pierce et al., 2008)

table 4. Progession recommendations for strength training with children and adolescents. (modified from Faigenbaum et al., 2009)


Behm, DG, Faigenbaum, AD, Falk, B, and Klentrou, P. Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology position paper: resistance training in children and adolescents. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab Physiol Appliquée Nutr Métabolisme 33: 547-561, 2008.

Bloemers, F, Collard, D, Paw, MCA, Mechelen, WV, Twisk, J, and Verhagen, E. Physical inactivity is a risk factor for physical activity-related injuries in children. Br J Sports Med 46: 669-674, 2012.

Conroy, BP, Kraemer, WJ, Maresh, CM, Fleck, SJ, Stone, MH, Fry, AC, et al. Bone mineral density in elite junior Olympic weightlifters. Med Sci Sports Exerc 25: 1103-1109, 1993.

Faigenbaum, AD, Myer, GD, Naclerio, F, and Casas, AA. Injury Trends and Prevention in Youth Resistance Training. Strength Cond J 33, 2011.

Lloyd, RS, Faigenbaum, AD, Stone, MH, Oliver, JL, Jeffreys, I, Moody, JA, et al. Position statement on youth resistance training: the 2014 International Consensus. Br J Sports Med 48: 498-505, 2014.

Malina, RM, Bouchard, C, and Bar-Or, O. Growth, Maturation, and Physical Activity. Human Kinetics, 2004.

Pierce, K, Byrd, R, and Stone, M. Youth weightlifting — Is it safe. Weightlift USA 17: 5, 1999.

Virvidakis, K, Georgiou, E, Korkotsidis, A, Ntalles, K, and Proukakis, C. Bone mineral content of junior competitive weightlifters. Int J Sports Med 11: 244-246, 1990.


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Christina Cherry
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