Strength training for teenagers: Is it really dangerous ?

Sport biomechanist

Strength training is often not recommended for teenagers who have yet reached puberty. The main reasons for this are the possible problems that can occur on the normal development and bone growth and the inability to increase strength significantly among young people. Let’s take a look at what science has to say about these arguments.

Firstly, bone formation is dependent on three factors: hormones, nutrition and the setting load of the skeleton. Despite the fact that we do not have much control over hormonal development and that nutrition has a limited impact, loading or using external weights when strength training is often controversial for young athletes. As it turns out, the mechanical stress associated with a loading of bones in adolescents results in an increase in mineralization and bone density [1]. A study of body composition among young weightlifters shows they have a higher bone density than the average population. [2] Strength training can contribute in reducing the risk of fractures and other traumatic injuries. Moreover, the argument stating that strength training slows the growth spurt of adolescents is a proved myth. The American Academy of Pediatrics (2008) and many other studies have confirmed this. [3]

Some people mention that it is impossible to increase the strength in an individual who has not attained puberty. It is true that without the hormones associated with puberty, it is difficult or nearly impossible to obtain apparent physical changes in muscle. However, the increase in muscle size is not the only element for increasing strength. For beginners in weight training, the most significant gains in strength are mainly through the levels of muscle activation and synchronization by the brain. The use of loads allows teens to learn how to actually applied force. They thus develop more efficient motor patterns that enable them to be stronger without apparent physical change. [4]

Ultimately, the goal of resistance training in adolescents should be quality-oriented gestures rather than increasing the workload. It is essential not to neglect the fun that should be part of any young athletes’ training. The consideration of these factors will allow a progressive development respecting the stage of physical development of the player. Supervision of training by qualified kinesiologists remains the key to success in the training of adolescents.

Written by Léandre Gagné Lemieux, M.Sc. Kinesiology

References
1. ACSM’S Health & fitness Journal, Vol. 5, no.5.
2. Virvidakis K, Georgiou E, Kokotsidis A, Ntalles K, Proukakis C. (1990) Int J Sports Med 11(3):244-246.
3. Blimkie CJ (1993) Resistance training during preadolescence. Issues and controversies. Sports Med. 15(6):389-407.
4. Ramsay JA, Bimlkie CJ, Smith K, Garner S, MacDougall JD, et al. (1990) Strenght training effects in prepubescent boys. Med Sci Sports Exercise. 22:605-614.

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