Sensible Strength Training for Young Adults


Guide to Sensible Strength Training for Young Adults by Len Glassman

Young athletes strive to achieve their personal best. As coaches, parents and physicians, we need to be able to guide them so they can reach their goals without injuring themselves. One way to prevent injuries is by having young athletes increase muscle strength, flexibility and bone density through proper nutrition and a supervised strength training program.

With every child, the question eventually arises: What is the appropriate age to start strength training?

Before answering this question, let's define strength training: It's a method of conditioning designed to increase an individual's ability to exert or resist force. The goal is not to see who is the strongest, but to improve muscular-skeletal strength, speed, agility and endurance. Strength training can involve the use of weights, physio-balls, resistance bands, rubber tubing and plyometrics, or it can mean doing body weight exercises like sit ups, push ups, dips, squats and lunges.

Despite previously held beliefs that strength training is unsafe and ineffective for youths, health organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) now support children's participation in appropriately designed and competently supervised strength training programs.

What's the Right Age to Start a Strength Training Program? Here is a good rule of thumb: If 7- or 8-year-olds are ready for participation in organized sports or activities such as little league or gymnastics, then they are ready for some type of light resistance (balls, bars and bands) strength training program. For older children, the real question is what type of program? The answer to this really depends upon individual growth and maturity factors (see guidelines below for further detail). In all cases, lifetime fitness and proper exercise techniques should be emphasized. Adults designing training programs should provide a motivating environment that helps children develop a healthier lifestyle

Where Do You Begin? Before beginning a strength training program, children should have a healthy, balanced diet, to make sure they are getting enough carbohydrates, protein and dietary fat to maintain energy for exercise. This well-rounded approach is part of the healthy lifestyle image that will foster young adults to remain physically fit throughout their adult years.

When teaching proper techniques for strength training, keep in mind that children learn best by doing. Show the child the correct technique, then closely supervise them to make sure they understand how to do it. Push ups and sit ups are great for beginners, but as they advance, young athletes should incorporate weight machines or free weights to challenge themselves and enhance their work out routines, so long as an adult is available for teaching the correct lifting techniques and to supervise the athlete's progress.

Start With The Basics Warming up and stretching should be performed before, during and after each workout to maintain flexibility and decrease muscle soreness. Since youths are more prone to heat illness than adults, they should be encouraged to drink plenty of water throughout the workout. For a beginning program, start with one set of 10-15 repetitions of 6-8 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.

Youth Strength-Training Guidelines Based on the research findings, the following are recommendations for safe and productive youth strength-training programs:

1. Select basic exercises for the major muscle groups. This could be as few as four multiple-muscle exercises, such as leg presses, chest presses, pull-downs and shoulder presses. The program could also consist of as many as 12 single-muscle exercises, such as leg extensions, leg curls, hip adductions, hip abductions, chest crosses, back pullovers, lateral raises, bicep curls, tricep extensions, abdominal curls, low back extensions and calf raises.

2. Have the youth perform approximately 12 exercise sets per training session. For example, three sets each of a four-exercise program, two sets each of a six-exercise program or one set each of a 12-exercise program.

3. Have children use a resistance that permits between 10 and 15 properly performed repetitions to muscle fatigue.

4. Increase the weight load by 1 to 3 pounds whenever 15 repetitions can be completed in good form.

5. Make sure young people perform every repetition through a full range of joint movement, from a position of comfortable muscle stretch to a position of complete muscle contraction.

6. Have them perform every repetition with controlled movement speed, taking approximately two seconds for each lifting action, and two to three seconds for each lowering action.

7. Train youth two or three non-consecutive days per week. For children actively involved in weekday and weekend sports, two weekly training sessions should be sufficient.

8. Progress gradually and consistently. This can be facilitated by recording every training session on simplified workout cards.

9. Include aerobic activity and flexibility exercises in every training session, multi-movement exercises (such as a bent over row with tricep kickback, or lunge with bicep curl), whenever possible to enhance mental involvement and enjoyment.

10. Provide competent instruction and supervision by qualified adults throughout the training session.

Strength training should be one part of a total fitness program. Teaching young athletes the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, proper nutrition and strength conditioning can give them the strong base on which to incorporate total fitness into their adult lives.

*This guide was prepared by Len Glassman, a Certified Personal Trainer and owner of Personal Best Fitness Center in Garwood, New Jersey. Len specializes in sports specific, goal-oriented training of young athletes of all ages and abilities. Len can be reached at 908-789-3337, or you can check out Personal Best's
Website at Len Glassman, a Westfield, New Jersey resident, is a Certified Personal Trainer with over 20 years of physical fitness experience. Prior to entering the fitness profession full-time, Len practiced law in the health care sector. His passion for
fitness and teaching others lead to the creation of Personal
Best Fitness & Pilates Center in Garwood, New Jersey.

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