Is it safe for kids to perform resistance exercise?
Children and teens can improve cardiovascular risk profile, facilitate weight control, strengthen bone, enhance psychological well-being, improve motor performance skills, and increase resistance to sports-related injuries.
In fact, a compelling body of scientific evidence indicates that children and adolescents can significantly increase their strength above and beyond growth and maturation; providing that the resistance exercise program is structured correctly in terms of intensity, volume, and duration.
Is it safe?
Contrary popular belief, resistance exercise is a very safe activity. As with most physical activities, resistance exercise does carry some degree of inherent risk of musculoskeletal injury, yet this risk is no greater than the risk associated with many other sports and recreational activities in which children and adolescents regularly participate. Current findings indicate that a very low risk of injury in children and adolescents that adhere to age-appropriate resistance training guidelines.
Dispelling the myth
There is the traditional concern that resistance exercise would be harmful to the immature bones of kids and teens. An area of concern related to youth resistance exercise is the potential for training-induced damage to the growth cartilage, which is found at 3 main sites in a growing child’s body: the growth plates near the ends of the long bones, the cartilage lining the joint surfaces (articular cartilage), and the points at which the major tendons attach to the bones (apophysis).
The greatest concern for kids who are following a resistance exercise program may be the risk of repetitive-use soft tissue injuries. In particular, the risk of injury to the lower back and shoulder are of concern. According to organizations such as the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, British Association of Exercise and Sport Sciences, IOC Consensus Statement and National Association for Sports and Physical Education, the risk is more from incorrect repetition and loading, not the activity itself. To eliminate any potential risk, expert instruction and supervision is a necessity with children and teens participating in resistance exercise.
If resistance exercise guidelines are followed, regular participation in resistance exercise can maximize bone mineral density during childhood and adolescence. Additionally, there is no detrimental effect of resistance exercise on linear growth in children and adolescents.
The bottom line, according to the major health organizations, any risk is more from incorrect repetition and loading, not the activity itself. To eliminate any potential risk, expert instruction and supervision is a necessity with children and teens participating in resistance exercise.
For a a comprehensive review, see Children & Resistance Exercise