Resistance training is absolutely safe when done by children and adolescents though; as with many other types of physical activity, the supervision of a suitably qualified professional is a must in order to ingrain optimal technique and appropriate exercise prescription. Research has demonstrated resistance training to have a very low incidence of injuries among youths and there is even a growing school of thought that resistance training is not only highly beneficial, but essential for young people to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
As I touched upon, the supervision of a suitably qualified professional is a way to ensure this. There are a number of bodies that offer accreditation to coaches around the world, the most prominent being the NSCA in the United States, the UKSCA in the United Kingdom and the ASCA in Australia. A recent, and very welcome, trend is for schools in these regions to hire full-time strength and conditioning coaches. The most appropriate model would see these professionals work closely with PE teachers to ensure that youths can receive a well-rounded; learning experience that is embedded within school curricula. In this way, youths are taught optimal training techniques for life.
It’s really just a complicated way of saying that youths who have reached or gone through puberty; seem to respond better when exposed to resistance training. Some differences between prepubertal and postpubertal youths include some of the familiar features of growth and maturation which we have all experienced. These include an increase in muscle mass and anabolic hormones in the body, as well as a lengthening of the limbs. Because hormones such as testosterone are associated with the growth of muscle mass, their presence during puberty, and beyond, creates an obvious advantage when it comes to lifting weights. Younger, less mature children do not yet benefit from this “hormonal boost” meaning their adaptations are more likely to be restricted to qualities relating to muscle coordination and strength, rather than muscle growth.
Following 8 weeks of twice weekly resistance training sessions, of around 30 minutes duration. Youths who have reached, or exceeded, the growth spurt saw larger increases in back strength and jump height than less mature youths. To give readers an idea of the age profile of these swimmers; the “mature” group had an average age of around 15 and the “less mature” group around 12 years. In boys, the pubertal growth spurt occurs around the age of 14 and this is a time of substantial bodily change. Which we believe has an impact on the way youths respond to training.
Aside from the actual results themselves, I think the study demonstrates that large increases in strength and/or power can be achieved with a relatively low investment of time and equipment. Our swimmers performed the 30 minute workout prior to swim training with no discernible negative effect on the subsequent session. Not only can this be of great benefit to their long-term performance; it promotes a very healthy habit and ingrains skills that can be drawn upon for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t matter that younger children seem to adapt at a lower magnitude. They still improve strength, coordination and self-confidence. These qualities can be built upon with more advanced methods as they become more proficient.
It may well be worth assessing the maturity status of youths on a quarterly basis. Due to the potential presence of a phenomenon known as “adolescent awkwardness”. In simple terms this is merely the temporary interruption of optimal coordination due to rapid growth of the limbs and trunk. Over a short period of time and this has a knock-on effect on movement quality. By knowing when a particular youth is undergoing the growth spurt and in potential danger of experiencing this issue. It is be preempted and training load can be modified accordingly. It is important to point out that no matter what stage of development a youth is at; the overarching factor that determines their suitability. Resistance training is the quality of their movement and their ability to display good technique. This supersedes any considerations of maturation.