Strength training, also known as resistance training, is a component of sports and physical fitness for young athletes of all ages. Strength training may positively influence athletic performance, prevent and rehabilitate injuries, and improve long-term health. It has been shown to be safe and effective when performed with qualified adult supervision and appropriate exercise selection.
1. Before initiating a formal strength-training program, a medical evaluation by a pediatrician or family physician is strongly recommended.
2. Strict supervision by a qualified adult individual, specifically in pediatric strength training (e.g. physical therapist, certified strength and conditioning specialist, or an athletic trainer) is mandatory.
3. Instructor to student ratio of one-on-one, -two, or -three is recommended.
4. Each session should include a 10-15 minute warm-up (with an aerobic exercise) and end with a 10-15 minute cool-down (with stretching).
5. When starting a strength-training program, children and adolescents should begin without resistance and learn proper form and technique. This is required to reduce the risk for injury.
6. The intensity, type of resistance, frequency, and duration depends on each athlete’s goals and should be a part of a properly structured program.
Here is a general guideline: start at 10-15 repetitions per set, 2-3 sets. Weights can be added in 5-10% increments. Workouts should be at least 20-30 minutes long, 2-3 times per week to make strength gains. There is no benefit in strength training more than 4 times per week.
7. Exercise should include all muscle groups, including the core.
8. Use different modes of training, including free weights, size-appropriate weight machines, body weight exercises, elastic bands and medicine balls. Young children should not use weight machines that are designed for adults.
9. Powerlifting, bodybuilding, and maximal lifts are not recommended until physical and skeletal maturity.
Reviewed on July 12, 2018.
Yukiko Matsuzaki PT, DPT, OCS, SCS, is a physical therapist at the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. An avid marathon runner, Yukiko is dedicated to caring for patients with orthopedic and sports injuries, and holds a particular interest in treating the young athlete.