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Strength training for children

Jamie Hale provides advice on weight training for young athletes.

Biomechanical research has shown that activities such as throwing, running and hitting impose larger forces on the body than weight training. These activities have been shown to place heavier stress on the growth plates of growing bones than weight training. To minimize the potential for growth plate damage, closer attention should be given to the activities mentioned above. I find it hard to believe that parents do not have a problem with their children playing football but concerned if their child considers weight training.

From 1977-1988 ninety high school football players suffered cervical spine injuries, while fifteen players suffered brain damage. How many trainees suffered brain damage due to weight training? Studies done by Orthopaedists have not found epiphysial damage to be any greater in weight-trained children in comparison with non-weight trained children. Studies have shown that children who weight train have higher bone mineral densities. These studies indicate that weight training can be beneficial to the strengthening of bone.

Physical education classes are more extensive in Eastern European countries than in the USA. In these countries, some children begin weightlifting as early as six years old. In the first year, general conditioning and technique mastery of the clean & jerk and snatch are emphasized. Once a general conditioning base has been established, fundamental strength and technique development exercises are introduced to the program. Over the next 2 to 3 years, the athlete's workout becomes more intense and specialized.

Eastern European countries have found children to be significantly healthier when they engage in proper weight training. If the health dangers were as serious as some people claim, these countries would not continuously start children on resistance programs at such a young age. The American Society of Paediatrics and the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine has cited that weight training can be positive for children. These organizations have stated the need for careful workout planning, the practice of proper biomechanics and supervision by a qualified trainer. Children training with weights have shown minimal hypertrophy in response to this stimulus. They have shown significant strength gains which can be contributed to nervous system factors.

Research has revealed that younger athletes can gain strength with lower intensities than older athletes. High-intensity training in youngsters is counterproductive to strength gains while at the same time increasing chances of injury. Injuries that occur during weight training are usually due to athletes pushing too hard or improper technique. Thus, proper supervision is of monumental importance.

Training Tips for Children

  1. Rarely attempt maximum efforts. A maximum effort could be in the form of a one-repetition max (1RM) or 5RM. Technical errors are more likely to occur when taking a muscle to temporary muscular failure
  2. Emphasize proper technique. Mastering technique should be the primary goal when beginning a weight training program. When proper technique is mastered strength and size gains will quickly follow
  3. Establish realistic goals. By establishing realistic goals, the athlete is better able to see the gains they are looking for. Children should be taught weight training is a lifetime endeavour. Seeking improvement is a life-long journey Children should also realize everyone has a genetic ceiling. Everyone cannot become a world-class athlete
  4. Pay close attention to overtraining. Young athletes require extra energy for growth purposes. Over-trained athletes are more susceptible to illness and injury. Excessive stress on the body can cause damage to the growth cartilage
  5. Young athletes need proper supervision. Young athletes need supervision to ensure they are following an optimal training program. Young athletes tend to let their mind wander. The trainer should help remind the athlete that proper concentration is required to perform the exercise successfully
  6. Individualization applies to children just as it does adults. Children mature physically and psychologically at different rates and possess different metabolic and biomechanical qualities. Training plans should be personalized to meet the young athlete's needs.

Keep in mind there is a possibility for injury when participating in any physical activity. When a young athlete decides to play football, basketball, soccer, or compete in any athletic activity, the parent must support this. Make sure that the young athlete has coaches that are concerned with the well-being of the athlete. If the coach supports winning at all costs or train until you are ill; find another coach. Proper weight training or participation in any physically challenging activity can enrich a child's life.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • HALE, J. (2006) Strength training for children. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 35/ September), p. 3-4

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • HALE, J. (2006) Strength training for children [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Jamie Hale is a Sports Conditioning Coach in the USA, a member of the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame and contributor to numerous exercise and sports journals.