Strength Training (Care of the Young Athlete)

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Strength training (or resistance training) uses
a resistance to increase an individual’s ability to exert force. It
involves the use of weight machines, free weights, bands or tubing, or the
individual’s own body weight. This is not the same as Olympic lifting,
power lifting, or body building, which requires the use of ballistic movements
and maximum lifts and is not recommended for children.

The following are answers from the American Academy
of Pediatrics to common questions about strength training.

What are the risks of strength training?

The risks of participating in an unsupervised
strength training program include injury to the discs and growth plates of the
spine and even occasionally death from weights landing on the chest wall. A
well-supervised program has a coach-to-student ratio of 1:10 or less and proper
certification of the instructor. Significant injuries are rare in
well-supervised programs, but can include stress fractures of the shoulder
(osteolysis) or spine (spondylolysis), muscle strains, disc herniation, and
tendinitis. Misuse of anabolic steroids to improve physique is another possible

What are common strength training myths?

Myth Reality
Strength training results in loss of flexibility. Research shows that strength training does not decrease
flexibility and that incorporation of a stretching program has
resulted in improved flexibility.
Strength training is dangerous to growth plates. Strength training is not harmful to the growth plates when done
in supervised settings using low weight and high repetitions. In
fact, research shows that it is safer than playing soccer,
football, and basketball.
Strength training will not result in an increase in strength
until puberty.
Well-designed strength training programs of at least 8
weeks’ duration can increase strength by 30% to 50%.
However, in young athletes, these changes happen by changing how
the muscle works rather than increasing the muscle size.

What are the benefits of strength training?

Strength training improves muscle strength and
stamina. Regular participation in strength training improves cardiac (heart)
health, body composition, and bone mineral density, and decreases cholesterol
levels. It is particularly helpful for overweight (obese) youth because it
increases lean body mass and metabolic rate without the extra stress on the
body. In some sports (like swimming or tennis), strength training may prevent
common rotator cuff problems. Research also shows a possible reduction in knee
injuries in girls when strength training is combined with a plyometric (jumping)

Who should not participate in strength training?

Strength training is not recommended for people
with the following:

  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure

  • Seizure disorders

  • Prior history of childhood cancers
    treated with chemotherapy

Children with complex congenital heart disease
should get an OK by a pediatric cardiologist before starting a strength training

When can my child start strength training?

The proper age is based on the following:

  • Maturity (if the child has reached
    certain developmental milestones)

  • The type of sport the child wants to

  • A desire to participate

  • The discipline to train several times a

  • The ability to listen and follow

Most young athletes have these characteristics
and can maintain proper balance and postural control by around 7 or 8 years of

What are the key components in a strength training program?

To get the most out of strength training,
athletes should

  • Include aerobic training along with
    strength training.

  • Train 2 to 3 times a week for 20 to 30

  • Warm up and cool down for at least 10

  • Practice all lifts without weights to
    make sure form and technique are correct. As techniques are mastered,
    weights can be slowly added.

  • Work all major muscle groups including
    the core. Joints should be moved through a full range of motion.

  • Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 15

  • Train for a minimum of 8 weeks.

  • Gradually increase weights by no more
    than 10% per week.

How can injuries be prevented?

To prevent injuries, keep the following in

  • Use proper techniques when lifting.

  • Adjust machines for height.

  • Always wear proper clothing and
    closed-toe shoes with good traction.

  • Always weight train with proper
    supervision and spotting.

  • Start each session with a 10- to
    15-minute warm-up. Avoid rapid breathing (hyperventilation), bearing
    down, or holding your breath while lifting.

  • No maximum 1 repetition, maximum
    weights, or ballistic maneuvers should be performed before reaching
    skeletal maturity.

  • Stop lifting at once if pain is

Where can I learn about qualified strength trainers?

There are many different strength training
certification programs in the United States. Some require only an open- book
test to become certified, while others require a college degree, CPR training,
written and practical examinations, and continuing education to maintain
certification. We recommend that, at a minimum, the program be certified through
the National Committee for Certifying Agencies.

The organizations with the most national
recognition are the National Strength and Conditioning Association (www.nsca-lift.org), the American Council on Exercise
(www.acefitness.org), and the American College of Sports Medicine (www.acsm.org).

Listing of resources does not imply an endorsement
by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP is not responsible for the
content of the resources mentioned in this publication. Web site addresses are
as current as possible, but may change at any time.