Injury Prevention: Should your high school student be in the weight room?
Many parents wonder whether or not their adolescent should be weight lifting while training for their sport of choice. The better answer to this question is that your adolescent athlete, male or female, should be participating in a strengthening program to go along with their sport specific training no matter what their sport of choice happens to be. While running/conditioning is an important part of training for a sport, strengthening muscles is equally as important, if not more so. Strengthening muscles allows athletes to perform not only sport specific tasks, but also allows them to run with better body mechanics which ultimately leads to fewer injuries. Common concerns that parents have in regard to strength training are: will my child develop large muscles, will my child hurt themselves lifting heavy weights, is it safe for my child to strength train? According to the Physician and SportsMedicine journal, “Informed clinicians can reassure parents that, with adult supervision, proper equipment, and realistic expectations, strength training programs designed for children and adolescents are safe and effective,” (Benjamin and Glow, 2003).
First it is important to recognize the difference between strength training and weight lifting. Strength training uses resistance as opposed to weight which improves the capability of exerting or resisting force. A variety of equipment can be used to achieve this goal including: one’s own body weight, free weights, machines, resistance bands or weighted balls. Weight lifting is a competitive sport which involves a contest demonstrating the ability to lift maximum amount of weight with specific competitive lifts. Power lifting is similar to weight lifting with three different competitive lifts. Most reported injuries are a result of weight lifting/power lifting and not a result of a supervised strength training program.
An appropriate strength training program for adolescents includes exercises for all major muscle groups 2-3x per week. Each exercise should be able to be completed with good form for between 8-15 repetitions. Weight or resistance should not be added to the exercise until the adolescent is capable of performing 15 repetitions with appropriate form. When the time comes for weight or resistance to be added to an exercise it should only be increased by 5-10% of the current weight being used during any given exercise and the repetitions should then be reduced. This cycle continues as the participant builds up to 15 repetitions with good form at which point the weight/resistance may then again be increased. Strength programs should be supervised to ensure that the participant is performing exercises correctly and safely. Warm up and cool down/stretching is an equally important part of strength training for young participants in order to maintain and improve flexibility of the muscles and should take approximately 10 minutes at the beginning and 15 minutes at the end leaving 20-30 minutes for actual strength training. Studies show that preadolescent athletes will be able to increase muscle strength but not muscle size with an appropriate strengthening program. It is important to note that strength training does not necessarily improve sport performance – practice in skilled sport specific activities improves sport performance. Strengthening programs can however improve sense of character, self-esteem, psychosocial functioning and overall physical health. “Strength training in prepubertal [and adolescent] children can be a safe and effective way to improve muscle strength and joint flexibility while potentially decreasing the rate of sports-related injury,” (Benjamin and Glow, 2003).
Benjamin, H., & Glow, K. Strength Training for Children and Adolescents. The Physician and Sports Medicine, 31. Retrieved July 21, 2014