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The Role of Resistance Training for Children and Adolescents

Fitness, Sports, Youth | December, 28 2012

By: Jim Pivarnik, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Michigan State University and Member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition’s Science Board

A recent study in Pediatrics by Eisenberg et al.1 indicates that adolescent boys and girls self-report a number of "muscle-enhancing" behaviors.  The authors cautioned that some of the behaviors, particularly those related to diet and steroid use are particularly troubling.

The President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition (PCFSN) shares the authors' concerns.  However, we believe that when done appropriately, behaviors such as resistance training for muscular strength and endurance can be beneficial for growing children and adolescents.   Indeed, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans2 recommend "[A]s part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week."

While traditional weight training can certainly be a part of this routine, any activities where the individual is using significant resistance (such as one's own body weight) against a muscle are likely to produce beneficial effects. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also supports the practice of resistance training in children and adolescents3. The AAP touts the role of strength training to enhance sports performance, help rehabilitate injuries, and improve the overall health in youth.  However, the AAP cautions that emphasis should be placed on high repetition, low resistance activities that are performed using proper technique.  We support these recommendations and encourage parents to consult with their family physician or a pediatrician to recommend the most appropriate "muscle-enhancing" activities for their children and/or be referred to a qualified professional.

  1. Eisenberg ME, Wall M, Neumark-Sztainer D. Muscle-enhancing behaviors among adolescent girls and boys. Pediatrics. 2012;130(6):1019-1026.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2008.
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Strength training by children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2001;107:1470-1472.

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