Monday, January 30, 2012

Should children lift weights?

Of course they should.  Besides, if we told them not to, they'd do it anyway.  What kid doesn't try and lift up their siblings, friends, dog, cat, the big rock in the yard, or whatever heavy object they think looks like fun to try and lift?  So, left to their own devices, that's what they do.  Why not introduce them to correct movement patterns while they're at it?

But, is it safe?  A lot of doctors used to advise against it.  What do they actually say about it now?

Well, they say its safe.  Not only safe, but essential for pre-teen and teenage athletes who play sports to avoid injuries.  In fact, supervised weight training with a qualified coach or trainer has a much lower injury rate than most sports.

Below you will find an article I wrote back in 2008 on the American Academy of Pediatrics policy on strength training for children an adolescents.  This statement recommends against powerlifting for children, however, more recent statements have allowed for this type of training when carried out under proper supervision where good form is a priority.  Another article by Disa Hatfield explains the current thoughts on children, strength, and power training.

But, before you get to those, check out this video of my daughter setting a personal record on her deadlift at her first powerlifting meet.  She pulled 82.5 lbs at a bodyweight of 60.  I personally believe that strength is one of the most valuable physical gifts you can give your children.  However, I don't believe in pushing children before they are ready, allowing them to lift unsupervised, or performing explosive lifts before a substantial base of strength is established.  If your kid can't do a simple pushup with good form or an unweighted squat, you might want to put the weights on the backburner.

New guidelines for Strength Training of Children and Adolescents from the American Academy of Pediatrics

A summary of the recently revised policy statement, April 2008

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently revised its policy regarding the safety and efficacy of strength training for children and adolescents involved in sports and for general health improvement. It has been shown that, similar to adults, strength training in children has a beneficial effect on cardiovascular fitness, body composition, bone mineral density, blood lipid profiles, and mental health. Strength training not only gives an advantage to the young athlete, but has shown to be an effective form of exercise for overweight children and can increase overall function in children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy.

In past years, a great deal of concern was expressed over the potential for injuries in children resulting from strength training. However, the majority of these injuries were the result of improperly supervised exercises carried out in home gyms. Growth plate injuries were extremely rare and were, again, usually the result of a combination of improper technique and inadequate supervision. In fact, the injury rates among children strength training under proper supervision is far less than those that occur during recess play at school or participating in organized team sports. Appropriately supervised strength training programs seem to have no detrimental effect on linear growth, growth plates, or the cardiovascular system. However, children with pre-existing medical conditions such as hypertension, cardiomyopathy, Marfan syndrome, and seizure disorders should consult with their physician before beginning any program.

In addition to those listed above, the benefits of strength training programs for children and adolescents include possible prehabilitative benefits. Prehabilitation refers to the strengthening of common problem areas that are more subject to overuse injuries such as the shoulder and the knee. Studies performed on the use of strength-training programs combined with plyometric exercises have shown to drastically reduce the number of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries in female adolescent athletes. Female adolescents who engage in sports are four to six times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than their male counterparts.

Once children attain postural maturity, which occurs by ages seven or eight, they can participate in a strength-training program with physician approval. Since most weight machines are made for adults and are therefore sized for larger physiques, these are not appropriate for children. Therefore, free weight and bodyweight exercises are optimal as they also develop balance, coordination, and allow joints to achieve a full range of motion.

Appropriate strength training programs for children should include functional movements that strengthen all of the muscles through a full range of motion. Of particular importance are the core and trunk muscles including the abdominals, low back, and gluteal muscles. Technique should be prioritized over increases in resistance and the program should include 2-3 sessions per week that are at least 20-30 minutes in duration. Strength training sessions should include appropriate warm up and cool down periods and should be supervised by a qualified fitness professional.

Although explosive or rapid lifting of weights is not recommended, the AAP reserves its judgement on the teaching of the explosive movements of the Olympic weightlifting techniques such as the clean and jerk and the snatch to children and adolescents. These exercises are distinct from common weightlifting, as participation in these lifts requires rigorous instruction of technique and strict supervision. The limited studies of children participating in the sport of Olympic weightlifting have reported relatively few injuries provided they are taught by a qualified trainer or coach. The AAP is, however, actively opposed to childhood involvement in use of 1-repetition maximum lifts until skeletal maturity.

In conclusion, the AAP recommends strength training for children and adolescents for both sport specific and general health advantages. To prevent injuries, children need medical clearance from their doctors and training programs should be developed and closely supervised by qualified individuals experienced in pediatric strength training.

For free full text article:

American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.
Strength training by children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2008;121 (4):835–840
Blundell SW, Shepherd RB, Dean CM, Adams RD, Cahill BM. Functional
strength class for children aged 4–8 years. Clin Rehabil. 2003;17 (1):48 –57
Hewett TE, Meyer GD, Ford KR. Anterior cruciate ligament injuries in
female athletes: part 2—a meta-analysis of neuromuscular interventions aimed at injury prevention. Am J Sports Med. 2006;34 (3):490 –498

Recommended Reading:
Sullivan JA, Anderson SJ, eds. Care of the Young Athlete.
Kraemer WJ, Fleck SJ, Strength Training for Young Athletes, 2nd edition

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Power Training for Seniors

Below, you will find an article that I wrote four years ago when I first began training clients. Shortly after writing this article, I had the opportunity to train my 67 year old father who was recovering from an extensive abdominal surgery. I put a lot of these principles into practice with designing his rehab training plan and we were quite successful at not only improving his core strength and posture, but also in restoring some neck and shoulder mobility that he had lost during his recovery and increasing his overall conditioning. We mostly worked with medicine balls and kettlebells and used standing postures whenever possible.

I have recently been working with my mother who has had bi-lateral hip replacements. In the past two years, she has been able to go from barely being able to walk up stairs and get in and out of a chair without assistance, to easily climbing stairs, getting not only out of chairs and off the floor, and this summer, hiked 2 miles up a mountain with our family. I use traditional strength training methods with my mother, but have also added in some medicine and kettlebell work as well as modified agility work and plyometrics.

Mom and Dad, climbing the moutain.
When modifying exercises for older clients, you can get rather creative to keep your exercises effective, but also safe. For example, my mother cannot jump onto a box, but she can step onto a low box and "jump" up such that she comes up onto the ball of her foot. Not only does this enhance leg strength, but balance and proprioreception, both of which begin to deteriorate in older individuals. Body awareness is just as important as strength and endurance in older inviduals.

Power Training for Seniors

It has become more widely accepted that individuals can and should stay active well into their later years and by that, we mean their seventh and even eight decades. The question that remains in a lot of people’s minds then becomes, what sort of activity is most beneficial for older individuals to engage in that will give them the most physical benefit and also improve their quality of life? Ideally, it should be fun, improve daily function and mobility, increase bone density, and decrease disability.

What exercise method could possibly encompass all of these benefits? Why resistance training, of course. And now, older folks are not just limited to regular old constant velocity resistance training; researchers are now concluding that power training may be superior for enhancing physical well-being and quality of life in older adults.

A study recently published by the Department of health and Exercise Science at Wake Forest University concluded that high velocity power training had many benefits that went above and beyond those of traditional strength training programs for older individuals. These benefits included not only increases in strength and mobility, but self-reported increases in self-efficacy, satisfaction with daily living, and quality of life.

The benefits of power training over traditional strength training have been investigated regarding the effect on bone loss in post menopausal women as well. The conclusions have shown that power training is at least, if not more, effective at preventing bone mineral density loss. Power training was not found to be additionally stressful or painful as compared to the traditional resistance training.

So, what exactly is power training?

Power training, as described in most of the studies cited for this article, differs from traditional weight training simply in the speed with which the weight is lifted. With traditional weight training, the weight is lifted and lowered at a constant speed. With power training, the weight is lifted at a much faster rate than it is lowered. This faster rate of lifting creates more force and for the muscle, has the effect of lifting a heavier weight. Creating more force recruits more muscle fibers and puts more positive stress on the bones and tendons. Stress on the bones and tendons is a good thing in that it causes the bones and tendons to remodel themselves to become stronger in order to handle a heavier load. Heavier loads are not necessary, simply an increase in lifting tempo.

For all fitness participants, specialized training such as power training must be adapted for with foundational training to develop a baseline of strength and conditioning. For older adults, this period of adaptation is especially important to avoid injury, maintain independence, and gain strength. Working with a qualified trainer is a safe way to develop this foundational strength and create a power training program for use in the home or gym.

Katula JA, Rejeski WJ, Marsh AP. Enhancing quality of life in older adults: A comparison of muscular strength and power training Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2008 Jun 13;6:45.

Miszko TA, Cress ME, Slade JM, Covey CJ, Agrawal SK, Doerr CE Effect of strength and power training on physical function in community-dwelling older adults.
J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2003 Feb;58(2):171-5.
von Stengel S, Kemmler W, Kalender WA, Engelke K, Lauber D Differential effects of strength versus power training on bone mineral density in postmenopausal women: a 2-year longitudinal study Br J Sports Med. 2007 Oct;41(10):649-55;

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Practical Strength for Trainers

I'm going to take a moment and promote another project I'm working on.

Some friends and colleagues and I have been planning a seminar for trainers, coaches, athletes, and folks who just want to learn more about the practical application of strength and conditioning.  Our first seminar is planned for March 24 and 25 in Malvern, PA at Malvern Prep.  We will be teaching the use of barbells, stones, implements, and odd objects for the development of general and sport specific power, strength, and conditioning.  The seminar will be largely hands on with the teaching focus on enabling individuals to incorporate these techniques into the context of their own training and that of their clients.

You can find more information at our seminar website:  Practical Strength for Trainers.