NSCA Youth Conditioning Guides

A few highlights from the NSCA’s updated position paper on Youth Resistance Training.  Well worth the full read, but I list several highlights and conclusion to get you started for the health of your kids.
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Physical Fitness

Physical Fitness (Photo credit: Justin Liew)

  • Current findings from prospective resistance training studies indicate a low risk of injury in children and adolescents who follow age-appropriate training guidelines.
  • There are many health and fitness benefits associated with regular physical activity in children and adolescents. Not only is habitual physical activity essential for normal growth and development, but also participation in age-appropriate fitness programs can enhance the physical and psychosocial well-being of youth. Although a majority of the pediatric research has focused on activities that enhance cardiorespiratory fitness (195), recent findings indicate that resistance training can offer unique benefits for children and adolescents when appropriately prescribed and supervised.
  • Although there is no minimum age requirement at which children can begin resistance training, all participants must be mentally and physically ready to comply with coaching instructions and undergo the stress of a training program. In general, if a child is ready for participation in sport activities (generally age 7 or 8 years), then he or she is ready for some type of resistance training.
    The program variables that should be considered when designing a youth resistance training program include (a) warm-up and cool-down, (b) choice and order of exercise, (c) training intensity and volume, (d) rest intervals between sets and exercises, (e) repetition velocity, (f) training frequency, and (g) program variation.
  • Although a limitless number of exercises can be used to enhance muscular fitness, it is important to select exercises that are appropriate for a child’s body size, fitness level, and exercise technique experience. Also, the choice of exercises should promote muscle balance across joints and between opposing muscle groups (e.g., quadriceps and hamstrings).
  • The length of the rest interval between sets and exercises is a program variable of primary importance to coaches, teachers, athletes, and researchers (251).
  • By periodically varying program variables, long-term performance gains will be optimized, boredom will be reduced, and the risk of overuse injuries will likely decrease (136,138).

Conclusions

Despite outdated concerns regarding the safety or effectiveness of youth resistance training, scientific evidence and clinical impressions indicate that youth resistance training has the potential to offer observable health and fitness value to children and adolescents, provided that appropriate training guidelines are followed and qualified instruction is available. In addition to performance-related benefits, the effects of resistance training on selected health-related measures including bone health, body composition, and sports injury reduction should be recognized by teachers, coaches, parents, and health care providers. These health benefits can be safely obtained by most children and adolescents when prescribed age-appropriate resistance training guidelines.

We now have the information to support the consideration of incorporating resistance training into a health-oriented approach to lifelong physical activity. Important future research goals should be to elucidate the mechanisms responsible for the health-related benefits associated with youth resistance exercise, to establish the combination of program variables that may optimize long-term training adaptations and exercise adherence in children and adolescents, and to explore the potential benefits of resistance training on youth with various medical conditions including obesity, diabetes, cancer, severe burns, and physical limitations, and intellectual disabilities.

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