Is Resistance Training Safe for Youth? Let's Look at the Facts
Updated: Jan 18, 2022
It is a long standing myth that resistance training is inherently unsafe for kids to do. However, claims to support this are often founded in anecdotal evidence or debunked research. Let’s take a look at a couple of the more prevalent myths surrounding resistance training for youth and at what the science actually has to tell us:
First up: Weight Training in Youth leads to Injury
There have been studies that reported a high rate of injury incidence among youth participating in resistance training, specifically to the lower back and to growth plates in bones. When we look closer into that research, the main causes of injury are not due to the effects of resistance training itself, but rather due to adjustable factors within the resistance training session such as:
Improper loading (e.g. lifting too heavy too soon, or too many repetitions)
Mishandling of equipment
Lack of appropriate coaching/supervision
More recent studies have consistently shown that an appropriately planned and applied resistance training program actually reduces injury risk in youth who participate in sports, and especially reduces risk of overuse injury. As well, for children who qualify as having an exercise deficiency disorder, and who may not be able to tolerate the recommended amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity, resistance training is a means ease the body into and prepare it for more intense movement and activity.
So how does this protective effect happen? A proper resistance training program implemented for youth allows a few different things to occur:
It teaches proper movement patterns and helps to correct biomechanical compensations. This is where a good coach is essential to be able to correctly cue and adjust exercises as needed for each athlete
Resistance training prepares the body for the stresses that come from sport participation. Stronger muscles can better absorb, translate, and distribute force, mitigating the effects of repeated forces that occur in sports
By providing variety to an athlete's usual movement, participation in resistance training decreases the risk for overuse injuries, decreases the risk for developing muscular imbalances, and decreases the risk of burnout and early retirement from sport.
Optimal mechanics, baseline strength, and the variety that are all potential results of a resistance training program help to decrease risk of injury in youth.
By also contributing to the development of balanced neuromuscular control and physical literacy as well as overall strength, resistance training not only mitigates injury risk, but is an asset to the development of youth athletes not just for injury prevention, but also for performance enhancement.
Next up: Weight Training Before Puberty Can Stunt Your Growth
This myth comes from the previously reportedly high incidence of growth plate injuries that occur from resistance training. As stated above, these injuries are not caused inherently by the effect of resistance training on the body, but rather were the result of modifiable factors such as poor coaching or lack thereof, improper supervision in around gym equipment and during lifting, and overtraining.
Contrary to this myth, resistance training with weights is actually shown to have a positive effect on developing bone and other aspects of body composition and physiology.
With respect to bones, let's first understand that bones do not reach peak density until around the ages of 25 to 30 years old. Afterwards, bone density starts to decrease (at a rate which is based on several factors, participation in resistance training being just one), potentially leading to diseases such as osteopenia and osteoporosis. This reduction in bone density cannot truly be reversed but it can be mitigated, and having a higher peak bone density can act as a protective factor to the risk of developing these diseases. Resistance training in youth is shown to favourably increase bone density compared with just sport participation. So, when done properly, resistance training in fact strengthens bones, rather than injures them.
Other aspects of body composition such as muscle mass and fat mass can be positively affected with weight training, especially in children who are overweight or obese. As well, a reduction of fasting insulin levels in children and adolescents with obesity and overweight; and may prevent metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes both in adolescence and later in life. All the mentioned effects on body composition can have long term health promoting effect that may continue into adulthood.
With appropriate coaching and planning, strength training is an asset not only to youth athletic development, but also physiological development.
Not only is resistance training safe for youth, it can incredibly beneficial for them as well. As with anything, poor coaching, poor preparation, and poor recovery are going to have negative effects, or at the very least, not have any positive effects on either injury risk/incidence, sport performance, and overall health.
Click here to learn more about how Bend Don’t Break can help you integrate a strength training program into your athlete's training regimen. Already have one? Let's book a consult to make sure it is optimized to your needs.
Dahab, K. S., & McCambridge, T. M. (2009). Strength Training in Children and Adolescents: Raising the Bar for Young Athletes? Sports Health, 1(3), 223–226. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738109334215
Stricker PR, Faigenbaum AD, McCambridge TM; COUNCIL ON SPORTS MEDICINE AND FITNESS. Resistance Training for Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2020 Jun;145(6):e20201011. doi: 10.1542/peds.2020-1011. PMID: 32457216.
Strength and Conditioning for Young Athletes: Science and Application. (2013). United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis.
Granacher U, Lesinski M, Büsch D, Muehlbauer T, Prieske O, Puta C, Gollhofer A, Behm DG. Effects of Resistance Training in Youth Athletes on Muscular Fitness and Athletic Performance: A Conceptual Model for Long-Term Athlete Development. Front Physiol. 2016 May 9;7:164. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2016.00164. PMID: 27242538; PMCID: PMC4861005.
Marson EC, Delevatti RS, Prado AK, Netto N, Kruel LF. Effects of aerobic, resistance, and combined exercise training on insulin resistance markers in overweight or obese children and adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Prev Med.2016 Dec;93:211-218. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2016.10.020. Epub 2016 Oct 20. PMID: 27773709.
Bea JW, Blew RM, Howe C, Hetherington-Rauth M, Going SB. Resistance Training Effects on Metabolic Function Among Youth: A Systematic Review. Pediatr Exerc Sci. 2017 Aug;29(3):297-315. doi: 10.1123/pes.2016-0143. Epub 2017 Jan 4. PMID: 28050919; PMCID: PMC6240908.
Zwolski C, Quatman-Yates C, Paterno MV. Resistance Training in Youth: Laying the Foundation for Injury Prevention and Physical Literacy. Sports Health. 2017 Sep/Oct;9(5):436-443. doi: 10.1177/1941738117704153. Epub 2017 Apr 27. PMID: 28447880; PMCID: PMC5582694.
Faigenbaum, A. D., & Myer, G. D. (2010). Resistance training among young athletes: safety, efficacy and injury prevention effects. British journal of sports medicine, 44(1), 56–63. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.2009.068098
Min, S. K., Oh, T., Kim, S. H., Cho, J., Chung, H. Y., Park, D. H., & Kim, C. S. (2019). Position Statement: Exercise Guidelines to Increase Peak Bone Mass in Adolescents. Journal of bone metabolism, 26(4), 225–239. https://doi.org/10.11005/jbm.2019.26.4.225