Should young people do strength training
In this blog we look at strength training for young people up to the age of 21, and what sort of advice a personal trainer should give to this age group (see also our blog on Gym instruction for adolescents).
Because teenagers and young adults are still going through growth spurts and hormonal changes it’s important for fitness professionals to give them the correct advice when it comes to exercise – in particular strength training.
Strength training for under 16s
Fitness instructors working with those under the age of 16 will need to study for a Level 3 Personal Trainer course that incluces working with a specialist population.
The guidelines are generally that a fitness instructor working with children under 16 should avoid long slow duration exercises and stick to interval-based training as this will better suit their clients’ underdeveloped energy systems.
Level 2 Fitness Instructors courses and Level 3 Personal Trainer courses teach that strength training traditionally involves heavy, compound exercises based on one to five reps, for example a back squat or a bench press. However, lifting weights can put a strain on connective tissues, muscular structures or energy systems that are not fully developed.
When working with young people, the personal trainer can adapt this training to using bodyweight exercises for resistance – for example a press up or a pull up – and possibly restrict the number of reps.
The ACSM’s Current Comment on Youth Strength Training
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) produced an official “Current Comment” on “Youth Strength Training” (Vol 32, Number 2, pg 28), which states:
“The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) contends that strength training can be a safe and effective activity for this age group, provided that the program’s properly designed and competently supervised.”
It goes on to say that fitness instructors should first ensure that the young people they are working with have a certain level of emotional maturity as they will need this to accept and follow directions.
Musculoskeletal strength in adolescents
One of the key things that a personal trainer should bear in mind when working on strength training with adolescents is that they should not use the same approach and training programmes that they would with adult clients.
While strength training of the right kind is an acceptable activity for adolescents and can help them develop musculoskeletal strength, a fitness instructor should make sure that they offer an all-round programme of exercise that also includes endurance exercises as well as working on flexibility and agility.
The benefits of strength training for adolescents
With childhood obesity on the rise, any professionally supervised exercise, including strength training, can potentially benefit adolescents.
Strength training can also improve a young person’s ability to play sport and help them develop motor fitness skills. It’s also possible that strength training can help young people avoid sports injuries.
Exercise is also generally considered to have a positive impact on mental health (see our blog on Exercise and Mental Health) and can be a good focus for adolescents who are experiencing major changes in their bodies and their lives. This can range from problem solving and socialising to team building experiences.
The Shokk brand provides general gym equipment suited for younger people and these can be found in many gyms today.
The key is for adolescents to learn good technique at an early age so that they will be able to safely work with free weights or machines within a gym environment in later life.
As with their adult clients, personal trainers should carry out a health screening questionnaire with their younger clients. Most gyms will consider those aged 16+ to be adult but anyone younger may need an adult to sign the questionnaire for them.
Those in late adolescence (aged 16-21) should also be supervised carefully by fitness professionals. In all cases, this should include a full warm up and cool down and personal trainers should ensure that the client remains properly hydrated throughout the training session.