Many parents believe strength training is bad for prepubescent children (9 to 11 years old). However, if your child is interested in sports or is keen to develop his/her talent as an athlete then the child should engage in a regular resistance programme.
There is little research to suggest that such training for young children is unsafe. In fact, most research confirm that strength training programmes prepared by qualified coaches and supervised by qualified instructors are safe forms of exercise for children, as young as 9 years old. The key is “qualified professionals”.
Lifting excessive loads, using wrong techniques or equipment and the absence of qualified supervision lead to injuries. The coach should set strict parameters of technique and lifting posture using light loads ( like an empty barbell or body weight exercises), as prepubescent strength training is the foundation of future proficiency in this discipline.
Myths about training
Myth #1: Children won’t develop any significant strength beyond what is typically associated with normal growth.
Even though children don’t have testosterone they can still make significant strength gains with a resistance programme. In fact, the lack of testosterone ensures that no muscular hypertrophy (increase in muscle size) occurs.
Myth #2 : Resistance training stunts children’s growth.
People believe that excessive weight placed on the developing muscular skeletal system of the child damages the growth plates and inhibits normal physical growth. In fact, such damage has never been documented in connection with programmes administered and supervised by qualified professionals.
#3: Children should only start with a resistance programme when they’re 18 years or older.
Resistance training programmes should be tailored to the individual. A programme must be based on biological age (physical development) and not chronological age. The child must be taught correct lifting technique with light loads. This makes their neurological system proficient at performing the correct actions. As they say, “perfect practice makes perfect.”
The young athlete should be educated on healthy and correct nutrition by a dietitian instead of seeking out ‘wonder potions’ or supplements to improve their performance.
Matthews is a physiotherapist with the Mittal Champions Trust