Is strength training safe?
Parents have been pressing me recently to comment on whether I think it is safe for older children and teenagers to do strength training.
Let me see if I can raise a few points about this issue.
How it works, why it can be beneficial, and when to be cautious
Strength training increases the amount of muscle mass in the body by making muscles work harder than they’re used to.
It can result in increased endurance and strength for other sports and reduce injury risk from sports by half.
It has also been shown to improve cardiac health, lean body mass, bone mineral density and reduce cholesterol levels.
The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses strength training for children and teens who are old enough to participate in organized sports, provided it is properly designed and supervised.
Weightlifting, bodybuilding, and powerlifting are not recommended for children since they are designed to push maximal amounts of weight and can injure growing bones, muscles, and joints.
Is strength training safe?
Generally, yes. But not if a teenager tries to do it without advice from a trainer, coach, or phys-ed instructor. These individuals can help create a gradually progressive age-appropriate routine that strengthens all major muscle groups rather than just one or two by increasing the amount of resistance they use as their muscles get stronger over time.
A pre-training physical is also a good idea. Children generally need low amounts of weight and more frequent repetitions of the lifting exercises than heavy load lifting.
These exercises can be done usually for 20-30 minutes 2 or 3 days a week with at least a day off between these strength training sessions. A warm up with stretching should be performed before lifting and a cool down stretching period should follow at the end.
Your teenager should never do strength training without supervision or someone nearby to serve as a spotter who can prevent them from dropping a barbell onto their chest should they become unexpectedly exhausted.
Teenagers should also avoid the use of anabolic steroids or performance enhancing drugs that are supposed to further help muscles develop. These drugs can cause mood changes, severe acne, but even worse heart disease, sterility, and even cancer – so they should not be used at all.
Hopefully, tips like these will raise the bar — or is it the barbell? — when it comes to strengthening your knowledge of the risk and benefits of strength training.
Lewis First, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.