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Strength Training and Adolescents - by Matthew Romans

There has been a lot of debate over the years among doctors and fitness enthusiasts about strength training and members of the younger population. To my knowledge, no true consensus has been reached. In a way, I suppose that's a good thing; often when a consensus is reached, debate tends to cease. I believe it's important to place a premium on movement and activity with children at an early age. Sports, games, and other movement-based activities can help build self-confidence, improve problem-solving and cooperative abilities, and foster socialization. While stationary activities such as reading and electronic-based games certainly have some merit, I think establishing the importance of movement helps to create good habits that kids can carry with them into adulthood. Proper strength training is something that is essential to a healthy lifestyle, and is absolutely something that should be taught to pre-teens and adolescents.

While we often think of pre-teens and adolescents as smaller, younger, and more hormonally-charged versions of adults, there are actually some very important physiological differences between youths and adults that we need to understand. Children burn more fat as fuel, and have less than half of the glycogen stores (stored form of carbohydrate) of adults. This means that they may fatigue faster than adults, but also may recover more quickly. Children have more Type 1 (slow twitch) muscle fibers, which means they have less capacity for muscular hypertrophy (growth), at least until they hit puberty. It's also important to note that the brain is not fully developed until a person reaches their early 20s. Just like it is with adults, it's important to regulate the variables of exercise frequency, intensity, and volume in children and adolescents.

For years, doctors discouraged youth strength training due to fears of damage to the epiphyseal (growth) plates, muscular overgrowth, and even stunted growth. Fortunately, these myths have been disproved in recent years, and people are finally starting to see the benefits of beginning a strength training regimen at a young age, for both boys and girls. I believe that a much bigger injury risk comes in the form of early specialization in a particular sport. Continuously practicing the same movement patterns associated with one sport or activity at too young an age increases the risk of injury due to repetitive stress, and can lead to mental burnout. I've seen this happen many times over the years, particularly at the world class level of tennis. It's a good thing to expose kids to lots of different sports and activities, and if they find something in which they truly excel, they can specialize once they get a little older. Strength training is important for the young athlete to maximize performance and protect against injury, but even non-athletes can benefit from the improved body awareness, increased strength, and cardiovascular conditioning that regular strength training provides.

At what age is a youth ready for a Total Results workout? Three factors come into play: mental maturity, the ability to focus and process instructions, and the ability of the youth to fit into the smallest settings on our machines. Children develop physically and mentally at different rates, but we have had trainees as young as ten years of age. I actually think that mental and emotional development is a far more important factor that determines one's success; we can always modify the exercise routine as we go along. Performing body weight exercises like push-ups, chin-ups (or flexed arm hang), body squats, and abdominal crunches will encompass the major muscular structures and can be an effective introduction to our exercise protocol. Once the young trainee is able to use our machines on a continual basis, we are sure to emphasize the same proper slow speed of movement and careful turnaround technique that we do with our adult clients. One major difference is that while there is typically little change in the adult trainee's machine settings, the still-growing young trainee's settings can change frequently.

We have had many clients over the years that came to Total Results as teenagers and continued working with us into adulthood. Exercise is our passion, and we love to work with people of any age that want to be stronger, fitter, and get more out of life. A Total Results exercise regimen is absolutely something that can be of benefit to young people. Please contact us to get started.

Posted June 27, 2019 by Tim Rankin