Fitness training is conventionally emphasized on aerobic exercise such as running and cycling. More recently, the importance of strength training for both younger and older populations has received increased attention, and a growing number of children and adolescents are experiencing the benefits of strength training. Contrary to the traditional belief that strength training is dangerous for children or that it could lead to bone plate disturbances, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) contends that strength training can be a safe and effective activity for this age group, provided that the program is properly designed and competently supervised.
Children and adolescents can participate in strength training programs provided that they have the emotional maturity to accept and follow directions. Many seven- and eight-year-old boys and girls have benefited from strength training, and there is no reason why younger children can not participate in strength-related activities, such as push-ups and sit-ups, if they can safely perform the exercises and follow instructions. Generally speaking, if children are ready for participation in organized sports or activities — such as Little League baseball, soccer or gymnastics — then they are ready for some type of strength training. The goal of youth strength training should be to improve the musculoskeletal strength of children and adolescents while exposing them to a variety of safe, effective and fun training methods.
Adult strength training guidelines and training philosophies should not be imposed on youngsters who are anatomically, physiologically or psychologically less mature. Strength training should be one part of a well-rounded fitness program that also includes endurance, flexibility and agility exercises.
Properly designed and competently supervised youth strength training programs may not only increase the muscular strength of children and adolescents, but may also enhance motor fitness skills (for example, sprinting and jumping) and sports performance. Preliminary evidence suggests that youth strength training may also decrease the incidence of some sports injuries by increasing the strength of tendons, ligaments and bones. During adolescence, training-induced strength gains may be associated with increases in muscle size, but this is unlikely to happen in prepubescent children who lack adequate levels of muscle-building hormones. Although the issue of childhood obesity is complex, youth strength training programs may also play an important role in effective weight loss strategies.
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