Strength Training

            Last’s month article on obesity was geared around our youth and their nutrition and exercise habits.  As stated in the article, there is a significant growing concern in the United States that nearly 15 million children between the ages of 6 and 19 are considered obese and 30 percent are overweight, according to the American Obese Association.  Obesity in our youth also carries a multitude of health risks, including asthma, hypertension, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and orthopedic problems in the legs and feet because their developing bones and cartilage can’t support the excessive weight.  An astonishing fact that was written in the USA Today in October of 2002 on obesity reveals that more than 60 percent of overweight children between the ages of 5 and 10 already have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.


            One of the leading causes of obesity in our children is inactivity.  As our children reduce their activity time and adhere to more sedentary lifestyles, weight gain is inevitable.  The opportunities to burn off calories for some children are diminishing, as sports teams continue to focus on producing high-caliber, competitive teams comprised of the best young male and female athletes and those kids just looking to have fun playing on a team or left out in the cold.  Schools have also reduced physical education time, emphasizing academics at the expense of activity.  Getting kids active is the key to preventing obesity, as well as, awareness in nutrition as another vital component in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. 


            Strength training for children and adolescents is gaining in popularity as an effective means in helping develop healthier lifestyles, combating obesity, and also helping them prevent sports-related injuries that are on the rise in recreational activity.  The American College of Sports Medicine contends that strength training can be a safe and effective activity for children and adolescents in contrary to the traditional belief that strength training is dangerous for children and that it could lead to growth plate disturbances.  The most important and critical factor is that the program is supervised by an adult with experience in training techniques for children and the program is properly designed.  Strength training for the youth and adult are very different.  A youth program should first center on technique that will give them the background they will need as they get older.  A program will work on increasing not only the musculature strength of the child, but will also work on enhancing motor skills.  With approximately 25 million children and adolescents participating in organized sports each year, youth strength training programs may also decrease the incidence of injury in sports by increasing the strength of ligaments, tendons, and bones.  Youth strength training programs also play an important role in effective weight loss strategies.  A summary of youth strength training guidelines from the National Strength and Conditioning Association are presented below.


Youth Strength Training Guidelines: An instructor to child ratio of 1 to 10 is recommended.  Have the child first perform a new exercise under close supervision to make sure that correct technique is performed.  Perform calisthenics and stretches before and after every strength training session.  Begin with 1 set of 10 to 15 repetitions on 6 to 8 exercises that focus on the major muscle groups of the upper and lower body.  Start with light weight and high reps and increase the load and decrease the reps as strength improves.  Maximal lifting is not recommended and is the major cause of injury with youth strength training.  Two to three training sessions per week on nonconsecutive days is sufficient.  Increase the weight gradually as strength improves.  Generally two to five pound increases in weight is consistent with a 5% to 10% increase in training intensity.  Progression can also be achieved by increasing the number of sets (up to 3) or number of exercises.  Strength training should be one part of a total fitness program.  Keep the fun in fitness and promote lifetime health.

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