Should adolescents’ strength train?

This topic is becoming increasingly popular over the past few years, as the growing trend towards strength training is seen in the industry.

For many parents, concerns are raised as to whether strength training will be detrimental towards their child’s development, or potentially increase their risk of injury. 

When I was going through school, the only kids in the gym were the First 15 Rugby Team.  If I went into a gym, I would stay in the designated cardio stations, performing my routine of bike, treadmill, and rower for 45 minutes.

The thought of doing anything with weight, in my 16-year-old brain, was absurd. 

Now, I am so grateful the industry has started to normalise strength training from an earlier age, particularly for young women. Because of this, my career has now progressed to educating people on the need for strength training, particularly around injury. 

However, the conversation becomes slightly more complex when discussing the correct age for a child to start their training. To break this down in an easily absorbable way, I have listed below some common FAQ to help support your decision for your child entering the gym. 

What are the developmental requirements for my child to start strength training?

At the age of 7-8, most children have a sound basis of balance and proprioception (understanding where their body is in space).  

Strength training requires a level of coordination and understanding of the body that is essential to safe progressions in the gym. 

At this age, the child can begin working on the foundational movement patterns, i.e. squat, hinge, split leg, push, press (without weight). 

The aim of training at this age is to;

  • Improve stability and control 
  • Improve strength endurance 
  • Build confidence in their body 
  • Form a basis for strength development in later years 

**Sidenote 

The emotional maturity of the child/adolescent plays a massive role in their training ability. Many of the documented injuries in the adolescent population were due to not following instruction, poor lifting technique, and dropping weights on themselves or others. Many of these injuries can be avoided with the necessary instruction. 

Does my child require a certain training history to enter the gym?

No matter what age your child is, a background in basic movement patterns is essential. If your child doesn’t have this, exercising with a trained practitioner to learn these fundamentals is important. Once these patterns have been achieved, weight can be added to their workout (depending on their age). 

Do I need a coach or health practitioner to take my child through their program? 

Having an experienced physio, health practitioner or strength and conditioning coach can be an absolute game changer. The age for an adolescent to begin training in a gym (without parental supervision) can range from 14-16 years old.

However, even if your child is above that age, I would recommend having a coach/health practitioner guide them through a program in the initial stages. 

Are adolescents at increased risk of injury from strength training?

Like any sport or training regime, injury is always going to be a concern. The thought process behind minimising strength training in adolescents, was due to their skeletal immaturity. The concern was that damage would occur to their growth plates when lifting a heavy load. However, not only are these injuries extremely uncommon, they are usually due to incorrect technique. Therefore, performing sub max lifts, under the guidance of a practitioner, can minimise the risk of injury significantly. 

Is there an age that my child can start using a barbell? 

At this stage there is no black and white answer as to the age an adolescent can begin strength-based training. 

However, the current guidelines are mainly criteria driven, meaning that your child needs to pass certain activity markers before progressing in their lifting regime. These markers can be assessed by a health care practitioner. 

There is continuing evidence to support healthy musculoskeletal development of adolescents through strength training, particularly when combined with sport. Whilst strength training shoulder not necessarily replace sport in the adolescent population, it is a great adjunct to their program, and will assist healthy development for later in life. 

Questions? Give us a call and our team will be happy to help out! 

Chantelle Bailey  – BeFit Training Physio Double Bay

Chantelle Bailey – BeFit Training Physio Double Bay

Chantelle Bailey is a physiotherapist based in Double Bay, in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. Chantelle has successfully treated musculoskeletal problems on the basis of a thorough assessment and diagnosis coupled with evidence-based rehabilitation programs tailored to the needs and goals of each individual. To book a consultation, click the link below.

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