Many parents worry about the possible dangers of strength training for young athletes. Whether it’s safety concerns or concerns about adolescent growth and health effects, we understand that parents are only trying to protect their children. That’s why we feel it’s so important to share the right information so parents can make informed decisions and help their youth athletes achieve their goals.
Bill Parisi (BP) recently sat down with Damion A. Martins, MD, Director of Sports Medicine for Atlantic Health System, based in Morristown, NJ to discuss this topic.
From your education and experience is weight training safe for young athletes?
BP: When a child comes out of the womb, they actually begin strength training. Moving your own body weight is a form of strength training. Movement IS training. Strength training can be confused with barbells and weights, but the human body is the best piece of equipment we have to develop strength. Pushups are strength training. Chin-ups are strength training. Even yoga movements can be seen as strength development. We can do that at any age.
DM: In literature, strength training is looked at in three categories- plyometrics and bodyweight, resistance training and Olympic weightlifting. The guidelines and recommendations are different based on age group and phase. For the younger athlete, there is no restriction in bodyweight training. The questions and concerns often arise when machines and free weights are added.
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Policy statement on strength training by children makes the following recommendations:
- “Wait unit 8” means children must develop balance and postural control before adding external loads.
- After 8 y/o it seems strength training can be performed in a safe, controlled setting.
- Sessions should be no more than 30 minutes, 3x per week, and include and dynamic warm-up, cool down and Cardio.
- Working sets should be programmed at low weight with high reps (>12)
- Appropriate supervision should be provided at all times
- No competitive weightlifting is recommended until a child has reached skeletal maturity
- Strength and skills can be developed along the way.
The benefits of strength training are supported by science, and include:
- Motor skill development
- Bone mineral density, even more applicable to female athletes. Peak bone mass is developed until age 18. Strength training at a young age increases bone mineral density at a higher rate and, as a result, reduces the life-long risk of fractures and a bone breaks.
- Better body composition
- Reduced risk of injury
- Increased confidence and improved mental health
How and why does weight training young athletes help reduce the chance of injury and improve performance?
DM: Muscle strength decreases the risk of injury. On average, 30 percent of strength improvement can be improved in 8-12 weeks (Strength Training in Children and Adolescents: Raising the Bar for Young Athletes? Sports Health Vol1(3). However, it can also be lost. 3 percent of strength is lost each week once a weight training routine is stopped. (Faigenbaum AD, Westcott WL, Micheli LF, et al. The effect of strength training and detraining on children. J Strength Cond Res. 1996;10:109-114.)
Increased strength may improve motor skills—long jump, vertical jump, 30-m dash, squat jump, and agility runs. Specification in program design can support injury prevention in a number of athletes. For example, overuse injuries in throwers and swimmers can be prevented with appropriate scapular training. Increased hamstring and quad strength is shown to reduce injury in football athletes. Plyometrics and neuromuscular conditioning can help reduce the risk of ACL injuries, in female athletes in particular.
Damion Martins, MD
Program Director, Morristown Medical Center
Sports Medicine Fellowship
Medical Director, Atlantic Sports Health
Dr. Martins is board-certified in sports medicine and internal medicine and currently holds positions as:
- Team physician and Director of Internal Medicine, New York Jets
- Director, Executive Health Program, Atlantic Health System
- Director, Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, Atlantic Health System
- Medical Advisor, New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA)
- Assistant Clinical Professor of Orthopedics and Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Dr. Martins graduated from Georgetown University School of Medicine, where he also obtained his master’s degree in exercise physiology and biophysics. After completing an internship and residency in internal medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center, he began a fellowship in sports medicine at the University of Maryland. While there, he served as fellow team physician for the school, as well as the National Football League’s (NFL) Baltimore Ravens and Major League Lacrosse’s Chesapeake Bayhawks. His extensive experience on both the collegiate and professional levels also includes serving as the chief of internal medicine for the U.S. Open Tennis Championship and as team physician for the National Hockey League’s (NHL) New York Islanders, Arena Football League’s New York Dragons, Molloy College, State University of New York Old Westbury and Hofstra University. Currently, Dr. Martins is a team physician and director of internal medicine for the NY Jets, administrative medical director of MLS and a member of the NFL’s Team Physician Society.
A recognized leader in sports performance and exercise testing, Dr. Martins frequently lectures on sports medicine and is renowned for his research in hydration, cardiovascular training programs and concussions. He has authored book chapters on the pre-participation exam and medical conditions that limit sports participation, and during his time as a member of the NHL Advisory Committee, he helped develop the league’s pre-participation exam guidelines.