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Benefits of Resistance Training for Youth and Adolescents

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Benefits of Resistance Training for Youth and Adolescents

Youth participation in a well supervised resistance training program becomes crucial in order to meet this goal. For the purpose of this article the term "children" will refer to pre-adolescent boys and girls (approximately up to the age of 12 years), and the term "adolescent" will include boys and girls between 13 and 18 years of age. The term "youth" will include both children and adolescents.

Benefits of Resistance Training
Resistance training for youth may bring positive benefits. Most children who adhere to a well-supervised, progressive resistance-training program can safely increase their strength and improve their athletic performance. In a meta-analysis of 28 studies on the effectiveness of resistance training in children Falk & Tenenbaum (1996) reported strength gains ranging from 13 to 30 percent. The authors also reported that a training frequency of twice per week was sufficient to induce strength gains, however, the exact duration and intensity remained to be determined.  In addition, resistance training may provide some resistance to injury. Stronger, less easily fatigued muscles are less likely to become injured.

Other potential benefits of youth resistance training may include increase in muscle power, endurance, bone mineral density, body composition, motor performance skills, sports performance and overall health and well-being.

Mechanisms of Muscular Strength Gain
Prepubescent children gain strength differently than adults. Prior to puberty, motor learning rather than changes in muscle size (muscle hypertrophy) more likely accounts for strength increases. It appears that muscle strength gains in children have been related to neural adaptations including changes in motor unit activation and motor unit coordination, recruitment, and firing as opposed to changes in muscle size (hypertrophy).

Moreover, girls and boys achieve similar gains; however, boys will gain more strength due to testosterone after puberty. Furthermore, girls usually experience their fastest increase in muscle strength during their year of most rapid growth, usually about the age of 11.5 to 12.5 years. On the other hand, boys gain muscle strength after their growth spurt, or ages 14.5 to 15.5 years. In addition, training-induced strength gains in boys have been associated with an increase in fat-free mass due to hormonal influences (i.e., testosterone).

Possible Risks and Concerns
The potential for injuries exist for children who participate in resistance-training programs. Strains, especially to the lumbar spine, are the most common injuries.  Other concerns relate to the effects of resistance training on growth and bone maturation. Although injuries to the growth cartilage (epiphyseal plate) have been reported in the past among adolescents involved in resistant-training programs, such injuries were due to improper technique and training protocols. Faigenbaum and co-workers (1996 and 2000), however, indicated that resistance training did not have an adverse effect on growth. In fact, resistance training may provide an effective stimulus for growth and bone mineralization in children, especially for those at risk for osteopenia or osteoporosis.

Most experts agree that children can undertake a well-supervised resistance-training program without incurring any further injuries. As long as the training programs are taught with age-specific needs in mind and are well supervised, the risk for injuries among children and adolescents becomes minimal.

Training Guidelines
The general consensus among most experts is that in the initial adaptation period of training, children/adolescents should begin training with a high-repetition (i.e., 1 set of 10 to 15 repetitions) protocol using light to moderate weight at least twice per week on nonconsecutive days. Exercise selection should include all major muscle groups with focus on proper technique and execution.

As one progresses, it is important to gradually increase his/her overall exercise volume (i.e., resistance, repetitions, and weight). On average, a 5 percent to 10 percent increase in training load (i.e., two to five pounds) is appropriate for most
exercises. Eventually, one can progress to two to three sets of six to 15 repetitions depending on needs and goals.

It is crucial for children to be exposed to a variety of activities that will enhance all the components of physical fitness including cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, body composition, and flexibility. Resistance training becomes an important tool for the development of muscular strength and endurance. When properly instructed, it can be safe, effective, and most importantly fun!

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