Misconceptions With Resistance Training For Youth


Should youth be resistance training and is it safe in a growing body?

Resistance training was once considered unsafe and the potential cause of injuries amongst many health care workers and the general population for the youth. These initial beliefs stemmed from data gathered by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s. However, after extensive review of the NEISS data related to adolescents, it was clear that many of the injuries reported here were actually caused by inappropriate training techniques, excessive loading, poorly designed equipment, easy access to the equipment and a lack of qualified supervision.  It is now well established that there is little evidence supporting the exclusion of resistance training in adolescents or the youth. 

Interestingly, data collected during the same time period as the NEISS data shows significant contradiction. A study conducted over a 1 year period in the 1980s evaluating the incidence of sport-related injuries across a variety of sports highlighted that resistance training itself lead to 0.7% of 1576 injuries, while participation in American football and basketball accounted for 19% and 15% respectively.  As you can see, evidence has been around for a long time showing that resistance training is safe for the youth population.  Literature comparing the injury rates between resistance training and other sports is limited, however, a more recent study in 1994 (still 20 + years ago) found that the overall injury rate per 100 participant hours for resistance training in adolescents was 0.012 and 0.0013 for weight lifting, compared to rugby which was 0.8. By no means do I want to highlight the importance of the youth and adolescents participating in basketball, football and rugby, but that the injury rates for resistance training are significantly lower.  As long as the individual has a high level of supervision and the training loads are monitored diligently, these results further highlight the positive impact of age-appropriate prescription of resistance training, adequate supervision, safe and efficient lifting techniques and progressive exercise loading with adequate recovery time. 

Furthermore, there is limited research to suggest that resistance training negatively impacts the growth plates in adolescents, or reduces the maximal growth of the growth plates.  It is critical to note that during these formative years, resistance training can in fact have a positive influence on the peak bone mineral mass and density formed.  In fact, failure to participate in moderate to high weight bearing loads during these years can have a negative impact on the peak bone mineral density formed and potentially lead to long term health concerns such as osteopenia and osteoporosis (reduced bone density and mass) later in life.

What’s the take away here? Resistance training in youth is certainly safe and in fact should be practiced.

Cheers to movement, strength and well-being.

Victoria Walker