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Resistance Training and Children

Resistance training was for many years thought to be unsafe and un-helpful for children, with the main arguments, being that weight-training can stunt growth by prematurely closing epiphyseal growth plates, weight training is dangerous, and weight training is ineffective due low amounts of muscle building hormones circulating in children. Malina’s meta-analysis (2006) thoroughly debunked these myths, by showing weight-training does not negatively influence growth rate, by showing a miniscule risk of injury, and showing that strength gains were large and likely due to neurological adaptations. Since resistance training is now viewed as safe and effective, structuring a program for children is vital aspect of being a fitness professional.

Children, physiologically and mentally, are not just miniature adults. Children’s gains in strengths are due mainly to neural mechanisms, such as an increase in motor unit requirement and muscle activation rates, rather than hypertrophy (Cunha et al., 2014). Also, a child’s nervous system is not fully developed. The cerebral cortex is not fully myelinated until late adolescence, which will cause issues with highly skilled movements involved in certain exercises (Kenney, Wilmore, & Costill, 2015). This will affect exercise selection as some children will not have a mature enough nervous system to perform certain exercises.

It is important that children have positive exercise session. Life-long habits are established in childhood, and if a child has a terrible resistance training experience, they are less likely to continue it is they mature. Sessions should be fun and of moderate intensity. If the workout is too hard for the child they are less likely to continue in the program (Lubans, Sheaman, & Callister, 2010). Children also enjoy working with one another so small group’s exercising together can be encouraged.

Using Faigenbaum, Lloyd, and Myer’s recommendations (2013) exercise sessions should consist of 8-12 exercises performed in 2-3 sets at 60-80% 1RM. The exercises should be progressive and the trainer should consider each individual child’s needs and physical and emotional maturity. Exercises should focus on developing strength, power, and muscular endurance. Proper form should be strictly emphasized. Lastly the sessions should be made as enjoyable as possible, so the child is encouraged to exercise as he ages.


Cunha, G. D., Sant'anna, M. M., Cadore, E. L., Oliveira, N. L., Santos, C. B., Pinto, R. S., & Reischak-Oliveira, A. (2014). Physiological adaptations to resistance training in prepubertal boys. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 86(2), 172-181.

Faigenbaum, A. D., Lloyd, R. S., & Myer, G. D. (2013). Youth resistance training: Past practices, new perspectives, and future directions. Pediatric Exercise Science, 25, 591-604.

Kenney, W. L., Wilmore, J. H., & Costill, D. L. (2015). Physiology of sport and exercise (6th ed.). Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics.

Lubans, D., Sheaman, C., & Callister, R. (2010). Exercise adherence and intervention effects of two school-based resistance training programs in adolescents. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 12, 56-62.

Malina, R. M. (2006). Weight training in youth-growth, maturation, and safety: An evidence-based review. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 16(6), 478-487.

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