Research Review

Fragile beginnings – but how much is enough?

Title: Position Statement of Youth Resistance Training
Authors: Dr Lloyd, Faigenbaum, Stone and a host of experts (Division of Sports Medicine, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Ohio, USA)
Source: British Journal of Sports Medicine, pre-publication, 2013.

Introduction: In this Research Review we have taken a slightly different tact than usual and chosen a position statement on a debatable topic that’s very worthy of serious attention. This article it is hot off the press and caught our eye, not because of its title, but because of all the gurus of strength training listed as authors, including (but not limited to) Faigenbaum, Stone, Pierce, Micheli, Kraemer, McBride and Chu. Our philosophy was, if all of these experts are collaborating on an article, it’s a must-read. Even better, it’s an International Consensus on youth resistance training, which still remains somewhat contentious. For example, we recently came across an article on a 12-year-old girl who weighed 44kg and squatted 97.5kg, which equates to 2.2 times her bodyweight. Quite an amazing accomplishment – but what are the long-term consequences, if any, of this loading on an immature skeleton?

Fortunately, this paper addresses one of the confusing issues with regard to the concept of ‘youth’. The authors describe ‘children’ as the following:

Boys: males up to the age of 11 who have not developed secondary sex characteristics

Girls: females up to the age of 13 who have not developed secondary sex characteristics.

This position statement was produced from one originally created by the UK Strength and Conditioning Association. The panel of authors who adapted it were leading figures in pediatric medicine and strength and conditioning. The article is also endorsed by a host of leading professional bodies in sports medicine, including the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, International Federation of Sports Medicine, North American Society for Pediatric Exercise Medicine, National Athletic Trainers’ Association, the National Strength and Conditioning Association and other peak bodies.

From the outset of the article, the authors stress the importance of qualified supervision for youths involved in resistance training. Equal weight is also placed on the need for benefits of resistance training to be evidence-based, with significant improvements in muscular strength, muscular power, running speed and general motor performance. Also deemed to be highly significant are the health benefits associated with resistance training in overweight adolescents, which include improved body composition, reduced body fat, improved insulin sensitivity, enhanced cardiac function and enhanced bone mineral density. From a sports participation perspective, resistance training in adolescents is also associated with a reduced sports-related injury risk.

With regard to training specifics, the authors emphasise that the fundamentals of technical competency should be prioritised at all times. When it comes to apparatus, child-size equipment (machines, free-weights) is recommended, however bodyweight, elasticated band and medicine ball exercises are also deemed appropriate. Although exercise intensity is traditionally derived as a percentage of 1 repetition max (1RM), prediction equations could be of benefit, although may be less accurate.

For youths with no training experience, an initial exercise prescription of low volume (one to two sets) and low to moderate intensity (<60% 1RM) is appropriate. Once the youth has gained skill in the technique of the exercises, the exercise prescription can be increased to two to four sets of six to 12 reps at <80% of 1RM. As the youth gains further competency, the exercise prescription can be progressed to lower reps (<6) and higher intensity (>85% 1RM). The authors refer to research indicating that youths have comparatively quick recovery from progressive resistance training and that, therefore, rest intervals of one to three minutes are appropriate, dependent upon the intensity.

Lastly, the authors discuss the speed of movement for the exercises. They recommend moderate speed initially, progressively increasing the speed at which lifts are completed once the youth has several months of weight training experience.

Pros: This is a great update from the previous position statement published by the National Strength and Conditioning Association in 2009. The paper is concise and, as one would expect, includes specifics with regard to the exercise prescription of progressive resistance training in youths. For fitness professionals and parents who are either too busy or do not desire to try and read seven pages of scientific writing, there is a synopsis on the last page which includes six key summary points.

Cons: We firmly believe that position statements pertaining to health and wellbeing should be open access, i.e. freely available to anyone via the internet.

Dr Mike and Joe Walsh are supported in writing their Research Reviews by Human Kinetics.


Associate Professor Mike Climstein, PhD FASMF FACSM FAAESS AEP
Dr Mike is the program director of Clinical Exercise Science and co-director of the Water Based Research Unit at the Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine at Bond University, QLD. He is recognised as one of Australia’s leading accredited exercise physiologists working with patients suffering from a wide array of chronic diseases and disorders. For more information on this, or any recent Research Reviews, email michael_climstein@bond.edu.au.

Joe Walsh, MSc
Joe is a highly experienced sport and exercise scientist, currently working as a principle investigator on a series of observational studies investigating the demographics of various cohorts of master athletes. Joe’s research interests include mathematical modelling, in particular use of Monte Carlo Methods and Markov Chains for modelling sports performance. He and Dr Mike have authored many scientific publications with findings presented at international conferences in Europe, Asia and North America.