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With the rising obesity rate in the United States, many health care providers advocate exercise for their patients. Often included in this program is a prescription for weight or “strength” training to help strengthen muscles and prevent injury. Concerns are often raised, however, on whether strength training is appropriate and safe for kids. Recent research has shown that the potential benefits of youth strength training extends beyond a simple increase in muscular strength and may include other improvements such as endurance, bone mineral density, coordination and motor performance skills.

Earlier concerns regarding youth weight training focused primarily around the risk for potential injuries and the fear of premature growth plate closure. However, recent data indicates that a supervised weight training program can be safely administered to children as young as six years old without risk of growth plate or musculoskeletal injury. In 2009, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) made recommendations that included 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity participation for school-aged youth. In addition to aerobic activity, the NSCA stated that, “research increasingly indicates that resistance training can offer unique benefits for children and adolescents when appropriately prescribed and supervised.”

Preventing injury and proper form is critical to maximizing strength training benefits in young children. Many past injury concerns with youth strength training revolved around the use of inappropriate weights, poor form and inadequate rest between exercise bouts.

Current guidelines recommend:
• Using weight machines and not free weights
• Proper stretching and warm-up prior to each training session
• Each strength training session be supervised by an adult
• Use of a circuit machine that works the major body parts should be performed only two to three times per week with at least one day of rest in between
• Ensuring correct form is used during each exercise, with approximately 12–15 repetitions performed
• No quick movements or jerking exercises, but rather smooth repetitions
• Strengthening the chest, shoulders, arms, legs and calves with one to two sets for each muscle group is sufficient for each training session.

Strength training is beneficial for children on many levels and should include high repetitions, low weights, pre-training stretching and be performed no more than three times per week. If these strict guidelines are followed, substantial gains in muscular strength and fitness-related measures can be expected..