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Clearing up misconceptions about strength training

by Scott Wikgren

Historically, physical educators have avoided strength training for children for many reasons—it didn’t work, it placed too much stress on growing muscles and bones, and it was too dangerous. However, Avery Faigenbaum and Wayne Westcott dispel these misconceptions in their book Youth Strength Training (2009), noting that "research has clearly demonstrated that strength exercise is a safe, effective, and efficient means for conditioning young muscles."

There are many benefits to a well-run strength training program for youth. Regular participation in a high-quality strength training program can help youth gain the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors that lead to a lifetime of muscle-enhancing physical activity and improved health-related fitness. In addition, it can have a favorable impact on the skill-related fitness components of power, speed, balance, coordination, agility, and reaction time. And done well, it can help prevent some injuries.

However, one of the most relevant benefits to many physical educators today is the potential for helping obese students improve their body composition.  Faigenbaum and Westcott write, "One out of three children is challenged by excessive body fat, and these boys and girls are poorly suited for both endurance-type exercise and fast-paced athletic activities, which they typically avoid at all costs. Fortunately, they generally enjoy performing resistance exercise, most likely because they compare more favorably with their lighter peers and they find the training effects highly reinforcing (that is, they look better, feel better, and function better)."

They add that strength training can be the step to encouraging obese children and adolescents to exercise by increasing their confidence in their ability to be physically active, which in turn may lead to an increase in physical activity, a noticeable improvement in muscle strength, and exposure to a form of exercise that can be carried into adulthood. "Our review of the literature, which was published in the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Research Digest, clearly indicates that participation in a supervised program of strength exercise can make a world of difference in a child’s life," write Faigenbaum and Westcott. And that’s a big part of what physical education is all about.

Scott Wikgren is the director of health, physical education, recreation, and dance at Human Kinetics. He is a former physical educator and coach. He enjoys playing tennis and basketball, being outdoors with his dogs, and spending time with his wife and four children.

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