Why children need to be strength trained



The world of sports science – with its biomechanics, performance enhancement, and mulsculoskeletal training methods – can be a confusing place for the layman. Until the past few decades, these words didn’t even exist, and to many they still don’t. However, sports science is utterly integral to the progression of any aspiring young participant; whether they know it or not, their participation is entirely shaped by the findings of academics, researchers and theorists.

One area that can be particularly confusing is that of youth participation in strength and conditioning training. To those who keep up with the latest thinking on the issue, it can seem a veritable minefield of indigestible jargon and contradictory statements. This article seeks to clarify the issue.

Firstly, a truism: participating in sports as a youngster is an overwhelmingly positive aspect of physical development. Children who get regular physical exercise are on average fitter, stronger and happier than their sedentary counterparts, and are more likely to continue this trend into adulthood. Simple enough. However, where the issue becomes slightly muddied is on the subject of injury. Regular exposure to sport does not ensure fitness levels that are sufficient to provide protection from injury in pre-adolescents, and poor conditioning has been found to be the root cause of injuries sustained by young people that can cause significant problems in later life. Whilst the old school among you may be of the “we didn’t have that in my day, just go out and kick a football about lad” mentality, this is exactly the point. Sport has evolved to the point where in this day and age we do have the scientific insight to know that regular participation in sport is not enough to guarantee health and fitness. Furthermore, the basic conditioning that is needed to aid a child’s physical development – which can be provided through gymnastics or other activities – is currently not in the school curriculum. More is required.

However – and this is where the issues becomes really confusing – the idea of lifting weights and strength and conditioning training in pre-adolescents has always been a bone of contention, with questions over safety arising from parents and coaches alike. So, to recap: playing sports is good, but also not good because you get injured. Injuries occur due to poor conditioning and muscle imbalances, but the idea of strength and conditioning training in pre-adolescents is generally viewed as unpalatable. Quite the quagmire, it seems.

Yet, relatively recent research has found a viable way around the issue. A study published by the National Institute of Health has suggested that youth participation should not begin with competitive sport. Rather, they summarise, it should evolve out of regular participation in a well-rounded preparatory conditioning program. Rather than focussing on enhanced sports performance – as has historically been the norm – young people should go through a program that integrates a variety of fundamental bodily movements, building strength and motor skills in order to address the key factors that cause injury in young participants. 

But how does this address the issues surrounding the idea of pre-adolescents lifting weights? According to the research: “The cornerstone of integrative neuromuscular training is age-appropriate education and instruction by qualified professionals who understand the fundamental principles of paediatric exercise science and genuinely appreciate the physical and psychosocial uniqueness of children and adolescents” (Myer et al., 2011). To put it in other words, the stigma that surrounds children lifting weights is just that, stigma, provided (and this is essential) the correct safety procedures are in place and the child is instructed by an experienced professional coach, who knows what they are doing.

With this, they say, young people will have enhanced dynamic stability, core strength, movement biomechanics, agility, and motor skills; effectively, they get the health and skill-related benefits of physical exercise, with less risk of injury. Yet another win for science.

Ed Capstick

For further information or to book on an Athlete Development Course click here: http://www.lionssports.academy/academy/Athlete_Development_Programme

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