A youth coach of the local Waynesville Youth Football league was recently accused of implementing weights into a football practice involving 9- and 10-year-old children. The coach's action created a controversy, at least among one parent, who removed his child from the practice and submitted a complaint to the local league's board of directors.
The local concerned parent said the 45-pound weights allegedly used at his child's practice "were too heavy for a child to be lifting," but the controversial situation might raise many parents' eyebrows because of the popular opinion that children should not lift weights.
While 45 pounds may be too much weight, preadolescent resistance training is rapidly becoming a regular part of American youth sports training, widely because of its positive effects.
In fact, a 2006 report in "Operative Techniques in Sports Medicine" said youth resistance training is "widely accepted as a safe mode of exercise for preadolescent children."
But despite supportive research, most public minds cling to the idea that introducing a training regimen to young children could damage a child's growth plate, including Jessie Stout, a current graduate assistant with the University of Central Missouri department of health science at the school.
"I was taught that you don't have kids start to do resistance training exercises involving equipment until at least middle school," Stout said.
However, local Mark Hagen, a certified strength and weight trainer, said using minimal equipment and the human body, itself, in a youth resistance training program can actually help boost preadolescent athletes' confidence and help them to learn proper exercise movements.
"A youth training program can help a child develop neurological pathways, which can help build a sound exercising foundation," Hagen said.
While it is unclear exactly how much weight was being used in the Waynesville youth practice, scholars maintain that introducing resistance training – including light weights and equipment – to children can actually promote healthier bones, muscle growth and reduce the frequency of in-game injuries, in addition to the benefits Hagen highlighted.
Avery Faigenbaum, a professor of exercise science at the College of New Jersey, discussed his opinion in a 2012 New York Times blog:
"Scientific literature is quite clear that strength training is safe for young people," Faigenbaum said. "It will not stunt growth or lead to growth-plate injuries."
Faigenbaum explains that he has utilized a variety of resistance exercises in several visits to New Jersey elementary schools. The professor implemented a lightweight, 1-kilogram medicine ball in elementary physical-education warm-ups, in addition to asking the young students to perform lunges using broomsticks. Other resistance training-type exercises, such as push-ups and one-legged hopping were also a part of Faigenbaum's youth training exercise, which was used to help teach the children proper training techniques.
Page 2 of 3 - "The body doesn't know the difference between a weight machine, a medicine ball, an elastic band and your own body weight," Faigenbaum said, which is why the children used their own body weight in the majority of Faigenbaum's warm-up exercises.
According to one article in "The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," athletes involved in resistance training-type exercises are mostly in jeopardy when proper adult guidance is absent.
Hagen said, "Properly trained coaches are well within their right to utilize a resistance training program." He added that proper supervision of a certified individual is also necessary, and that individual supervision in a youth sports practice is nearly impossible.
Citing appropriate guidance and a gradual increase in exercise loads, Hagen said children experience improvements in muscular strength when light resistance training is "incorporated into a youth resistance training program."
Hagen said it is important for youth coaches to understand that proper certification from an accredited organization, such as the American College of Sports Medicine, should be attained by a coach before the coach implements a resistance training program at a youth practice. And even then, a resistance training program should only be used if the athletes' parents approve and proper supervision is present.
Another issue Livestrong.com, the popular Livestrong Foundation's website, highlights is that "it's important to note the difference between strength training and power lifting," especially when children are involved.
Parents' inner light bulbs sometimes illuminate with negative thoughts when they witness their children lifting weights. Instead, parents should realize that youth resistance training is becoming increasing popular.
Livestrong.com mentions lunges, pull-ups, push-ups, and medicine ball twists – exercises similar to those listed by Faigenbaum – as acceptable ways to train young athletes age 8 or older.
But how much weight is too much for children to use while resistance training?
Currently, Hagen is mentoring a fifth grader in a resistance training program, which requires a pre-test before the child can begin exercising. The purpose of the pre-test is to examine exactly what the individual's mentality is toward resistance training, as well as how much the young athlete can endure.
In addition, authors of the May 2010 article "Strength Training for the Young Athlete" in the "Pediatric Annals" medical journal also have the answer.
Page 3 of 3 - They said that after a 5 to 10 minute warm-up drill, a child is encouraged to lift a low enough resistance so he or she can complete three sets with a maximum 15 repetitions. Also required is a 1 to 3 minute rest between sets. As the individual learns proper technique and can easily perform the repetitions, then the total lifted weight can gradually increase by 5 to 10 percent.
"Every child is different," Hagen advised. "We can't have children doing adult-type exercises and expect adult-type results."
One local parent may have had a cause for concern toward the amount of weight being used at youth football practices, but it is not at all uncommon for parents and certified coaches to implement some sort of weight resistance in a youth athletic training regimen and supervise each participant individually.