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Thoughts about Youth Weight Training

Sorry, I did not have the time and patience to provide references for everything. If you are interested in something specific, just ask.

Disclaimer - I am not a doctor or scientist. I do have a reasonable level of education on training science, both from my own research and the Henselmans PT Course.

Why ?

The prepubertal years: a uniquely opportune stage of growth when the skeleton is most responsive to exercise? (Shona L. Bass, 2000).
A six-year longitudinal study of the relationship of physical activity to bone mineral accrual in growing children: the university of Saskatchewan bone mineral accrual study (D A Bailey, H A McKay, R L Mirwald, P R Crocker, R A Faulkner 1999).
Secular trends in physical fitness and body size in Lithuanian children and adolescents between 1992 and 2012 (Tomas Venckunas, Arunas Emeljanovas, Brigita Mieziene, Vida Volbekiene 2016).

When ?

Kids can't grow muscles before puberty ? Research shows that significant strength gains are possible at any age. (REF). Typical studies are probably too short (or not intensive enough) to show hypertrophy, but young gymnasts and Giuliano Stroe demonstrate that it is possible.

How ?

The typical recommendation is to start with body weight training before lifting weights. In today's reality, many kids cannot perform push-ups with proper form, and are too weak to even think of doing pull-ups.

Adjustable dumbbells are affordable. Exercises are usually easy to learn given some basic cues. Dumbbell training also develops stabilizing muscles, and is sometimes safer than training with barbells (e.g. flat bench press).

In my opinion, barbell training is more suitable for older lifters. Barbells and a rack are quite an investment. Exercises tend to be more technical, and are best learned under the direct supervision of a coach or trainer. Olympic lifts require extensive technique practice and good mobility (e.g. deep squat, front rack position).

Machines are expensive, and only found at gyms. Most machines are designed for adults, and will not have the adjustment range to fit smaller kids.

Cable pulleys can be set up at home at low cost (about $50). Typical cable stacks at the gym are problematic for beginners as they don't allow weight adjustment in small increments. The DIY version can be loaded with small plates.

Where ?

How to learn ?

Risks ?

Young bones are softer, and break more easily than stiffer adult bones. On the other hand, young tendons and ligaments are more resilient. Finally, the risks in weight training should be compared with the considerable long-term risks of obesity and poor physical and metabolic fitness !

When can my Child start lifting weights + Part 2 - articles by Dr. Horschig / Squat University
Does lifting weights stunt growth ? - article by Barbell Logic
Physeal injuries in children's and youth sports: reasons for concern? (D Caine et al, 2006).

Kids vs. adults

As kids develop, their nervous system and metabolism changes. In particular...

The young athlete: some physiological considerations (Oded Bar-Or, 1995).
Are Prepubertal Children Metabolically Comparable to Well-Trained Adult Endurance Athletes? (Sebastien Ratel, Anthony J Blazevich 2017)
Oxidation rate of exogenous carbohydrate during exercise is higher in boys than in men (Brian W Timmons, Oded Bar-Or, Michael C Riddell 2002)
Nutritional Considerations for Performance in Young Athletes (JohnEric W Smith, Megan E Holmes, Matthew J McAllister 2015) - I don't quite agree with their recommendations on carbs...
Protein intake and nitrogen balance in male non-active adolescents and soccer players (N Boisseau, C Le Creff, M Loyens, J R Poortmans 2002) - balance at a daily intake of 1.57g Protein / kg of body mass.
Metabolic and hormonal responses to exercise in children and adolescents (N Boisseau, P Delamarche 2000)
Gastrocnemius muscle specific force in boys and men (Christopher I Morse et al, 2007).

How should kids train ?

Strength training recommendations for the young athlete (Jeffrey M Vaughn, Lyle Micheli 2008).
Effect of rest interval length on bench press performance in boys, teens, and men (Avery D Faigenbaum et al, 2008).

Growth spurts

Osgood-Schlatter (knee pain) and Sever's Disease (heel pain) can be particular concerns during this sensitive phase. "Growing pains" in these areas should not be taken lightly. Now - at the tender age of 55 - my doctor tells me that I have Osgood-Schlatter on my knees. An earlier diagnosis could have been helpful...

It can make sense to reduce training volume and intensity during this time. Light, but full ROM training may be valuable to encourage muscles to lengthen.

Nutrition (protein, vitamins, minerals) should be on point to support optimal physical growth. Mine probably wasn't - which is why I put such an emphasis on nutrient-rich food in my nutrition chapter.

Pathophysiology of Osgood-Schlatter Disease: Does Vitamin D have a Role? (note the high prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency even in a sunny country like Tunisia)

Further Reading

Krafttraining bei Kindern und Jugendlichen (Michael Fröhlich, Jürgen Giessing, Andreas Strack, updated 2019). Good overview for coaches and parents. Many citations. Book in German.

Kraft und Krafttraining bei Kindern und Jugendlichen - aktueller Stand (same authors, 2009). Article with similar theoretical content, including many citations. The article is in German, but most citations refer to English articles.

Krafttraining im Nachwuchsleistungssport (Bundesinstitut für Sportwissenschaft, 2010). Detailed research review on strength training for youth athletes. Many references.

Strength and Conditioning for Young Athletes (various authors, updated 2020). Many more references...

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