Resistance training for Adolescents

Author: Aditya Mahajan, Advisor at Assessment Division, INFS

Key points:
• A compelling body of evidence suggests that properly designed resistance training programs performed under expert supervision are safe for the children and adolescents.
• Resistance training does not have any adverse impact on the linear growth in youths.
• Resistance training provides a number of health and fitness-related benefits such as better skeletal health, reduce sports-related injuries, improves motor performance skills and increases the strength.
• Most injuries related to youth resistance training programs are due to poor exercise techniques, bad training program design, inappropriate training volume, and intensity. In this article, we discussed the guidelines for youth training including the appropriate age to start resistance training and how to choose the right exercise, training volume, and their progression.
Keywords: Resistance, training, adolescents, injuries, growth

Resistance training for children and adolescents has always been a controversial topic owing to the high risk of injuries associated with it. But the findings from several studies indicate that properly designed resistance training programs are perfectly safe and effective for adolescents. Resistance training, as with most other physical activities, does carry some inherent risks of injuries, yet this risk is no greater than what is associated with other physical activities and can be prevented by following certain age-specific training guidelines, good supervision, appropriate training program design, and gradual and sensible progression. Thus, there is absolutely no justifiable reason to preclude the youngsters from strength training.

Potential benefits of strength training:
The are numerous health and fitness benefits associated with resistance training in children and adolescents. This includes:

1. Skeletal health: Fears for injury to the physis or growth plates due to resistance training in youths have not been supported by the studies. In fact, the mechanical stress placed on developing bones, during resistance training and powerlifting, may actually be beneficial for skeletal health. Some studies even suggest that failure to participate in moderate-to-vigorous resistance bearing activity (such as gymnastics, powerlifting, strength training etc) may pre-dispose youths to long-term skeletal health implications. And yes, there is no scientific evidence that indicates that resistance training has any adverse effect on linear growth during adolescence or childhood.

2. Motor skill development: Regular participation in resistance training is known to improve certain motor performance skills (eg. vertical jump, long jump, sprint speed, throwing etc) in children and adolescent. Therefore, resistance training is an effective tool qto enhance the quality of sports performance.

3. Muscular strength and endurance: Resistance training can lead to morphological (changes in muscle fiber size and composition, myosin heavy chain, greater tendon stiffness etc) and neurological (Motor unit recruitment, enhanced inter-muscular coordination etc) adaptations. These combined morphological and neurological adaptations ultimately lead to increase in strength.

Training guidelines:

A. The right age to start?
It is known that postural control and balance skills mature to adult levels by 7-8 Years of age. Hence, it is suggested to start resistance training post this age. It is highly recommended that resistance training should only be included after certain experience and skills development by prior participation in any sport or athletics.

B. Exercise selection:
The exercise selection will depend upon the training age, baseline fitness levels, and training goal. Exercises should include all muscle groups and should be performed through the full ROM at each joint.
While beginning, the program should focus on body weight training and include exercises like bodyweight squatting, pressing, lunging and pulling movements, along with some kind of neuro-muscular coordination workout (balancing exercises, plyometric movements etc). Once the sufficient strength and motor skill competency are developed, external resistance (through free-weights) should be incorporated in the program.

C. Training volume and intensity:
Training volume and intensity are the key resistance training variables that need to be routinely manipulated in accordance with your training goal.
For individuals without prior training experience, the initial program (after attaining enough experience with bodyweight exercises) should consist of low volume (1-2 sets) and low-moderate intensity (<60% of 1RM). For multi-joint/compound exercises (like squats, bench press etc) multiple repetitions can be counter-productive for the development of motor control. Instead, children should perform fewer repetitions (1-3 reps) and should be provided with real-time feedback after every repetition to ensure correct execution of the exercises.
Once the basic technique is competent and 8-15 repetitions can be easily performed, then prescription load can be progressed by 10%. As training age increases, phases of low-repetition/high-load can also be periodized into the program.

D. Training frequency:
Studies indicate that 2-3 resistance training sessions per week on non-consecutive days is most appropriate to develop muscular strength in children and adolescents. Training >4/week provides no additional benefits and may increase the risk of over-use injuries.

A key factor in the design of resistance training program is appropriate to program design, under expert supervision. The following is a summary of training guidelines:

➢ Begin each session with 5-10 mins of a dynamic warm-up.

➢ Keep the training frequency to 2-3 non-consecutive days in a week.

➢ Include total 8-12 exercises targeting all the muscle groups in the program.

➢ Initially, perform 8-15 repetitions for 1-2 sets with the light-to-moderate load to grasp the right lifting technique. Compound exercises should be performed for 1-3 repetitions only with live feedback and instructions on correct lifting technique.

➢ Also, include specific exercises that require neuro-muscular coordination such as balancing.

➢ Once the basic form is competent, and the participant can easily lift the given load for 8-15 repetitions, increase the load by 10%.

➢ After attaining the certain training age, heavy load training can be introduced by periodising the workouts.

INFS HEALTH Series for Adolescents’ is now available for purchase from the INFS Book Shop

1. Lloyd, R. S., Faigenbaum, A. D., Stone, M. H., Oliver, J. L., Jeffreys, I., Moody, J. A., … & Herrington, L. (2014). Position statement on youth resistance training: the 2014 International Consensus. Br J Sports Med, 48(7), 498-505.
2. Strength, A. (2008). Resistance training for children and youth: A position stand from the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association. 2007.
3. Behm, D. G., Faigenbaum, A. D., Falk, B., & Klentrou, P. (2008). Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology position paper: resistance training in children and adolescents. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism, 33(3), 547-561.
4. McCambridge, T. M., & Stricker, P. R. (2008). Strength training by children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 121(4), 835-840.
5. Faigenbaum, Avery D., and Gregory D. Myer. “Resistance training among young athletes: safety, efficacy, and injury prevention effects.” British journal of sports medicine 44.1 (2010): 56-63.

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