Youth Exercise Training: Fact or Fiction?

By John R. Mishock, PT, DPT, DC


For our purpose, “youth” will be defined as a female’s age 2-10 or male 2-11 years old. Adolescents will be defined as females 11-19 and males 12-19 years old. The challenge with growing children is that at any given chronological age there can be up to 4 years difference biologically. Another word, two 10 years old children chronologically could differ by 4 years biologically making one 6 years old and the other 14 years old physically.

Exercise training is unsafe for children?

The Train 2 Play exercise programs use a comprehensive training approach to develop and optimize the human bodies athletic potential through the use of exercise training and plyometrics. Exercise training is defined as physical exercise that uses body weight or resistance to induce the development of muscular system. Plyometric training is a type of exercise which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time. (This will be described in great detail in Train 2 Play future writings). Youth plyometric and resistance training, as with most physical activities, does carry some degree of inherent risk of muscle, ligament or bone injury, yet this risk is no greater than many other sports and recreational activities in which children and adolescents regularly participate.  In a prospective study that evaluated the incidence of sports-related injuries in school-aged youth over a 1-year period, resistance training resulted in less injury individually than football, basketball, and soccer. In the 1576 injuries documented, 0.7% occurred during exercise training while 19% were from football, 15% from basketball and 2% from soccer.(1)

In a number of youth exercise injury studies, it was found that most injuries were due to aggressive progression of training loads or improper exercise technique not the exercises themselves.(2, 3, 4) With appropriate supervision and sensible progression of exercise intensity and volume, the risk of injury is no greater than a childs normal physical activity and play. The key is to follow strict safety guidelines and precautions.

You should not perform resistance or plyometric training until you have reached puberty?

Children and adolescents can begin exercise training when the have the emotional maturity to accept and follow directions (as early as 6-8 years of age). Reaching puberty does not give the athlete anymore advantage to safety vs pre-pubescent youth.(5)

Children will experience bone and growth plate damage with plyometric or resistance training?

There are 3 main sites in growing cartilage (bone) in a child’s body: the growth plates near the ends of the long bones, the cartilage lining the joint surfaces (articular cartilage), and the points at which the major tendons attach to the bones (apophysis). The theory was that growth cartilage is “pre-bone,” and is weaker than adjacent connective tissue and therefore more easily damaged by repetitive micro trauma from exercise training. Conversely, it has been found that adolescent growing cartilage may actually be stronger and more resistant to sheering type forces then adults. (6, 7, 8, 9)  Furthermore, research supports the fact that growth plate injuries are actually less in children performing an exercise routine versus children not performing exercise at all. Furthermore, the growth plates actually become stronger with the physical stress, preventing or minimizing shear related injuries of the growth plate. (10)

The bottom line is that injury to the growth cartilage has not been reported in any prospective youth exercise training research study. There is no evidence to suggest that resistance training will negatively impact growth and maturation during childhood and or adolescence.(11)

Plyometric Training is only for young athletes playing sports?

Plyometric exercises typically include hops, jumps, throws and other explosive movements that exploit the muscles stretch-shortening cycle which increases muscle power. If one watches children in a playground; skips, jumps, pulls are similar to plyometric training.  This type of exercise, although often game like in nature, actually conditions the body to increase speed of movement and improve power production. (12)

Children of all abilities can benefit from plyometric training. Regular participation in this type of training can lead to enhanced physical fitness minimizing the deleterious effects of a sedentary lifestyle in boys and girls. (13)

In a systematic review of children 5-14 years old performing plyometric training it was suggested that plyometric training is safe for children of all abilities, whether an athlete or not, providing there is appropriate skilled supervision, children agree to participate, and safety guidelines are built into the intervention.(14)

Resistance and plyometric training can cause muscle and other soft tissue injuries?

Like with any physical activity, there is the potential for injury to occur if the intensity, volume, or frequency of training exceeds the physiological abilities of the participants. This type of over training can potentially create soft-tissue (muscle or ligament) injury.

In several reports, lower back pain was the most frequent injury in high school athletes who participated in aggressive resistance training programs beyond the athlete’s physical limits.(15)

Another study showed that adolescent powerlifters, who train at near maximal or near-maximal resistances, increase their likelihood of low back pain. (16)  On the other hand, insufficient strength, muscular endurance, and stability in the lower back has been associated with current and future lower back pain in adolescents. (17)

In the “Train 2 Play Method”, the exercise programs are designed to create strength relative to the adolescents own body weight (maximum relative strength) using appropriate and safe resistance. Power lifting is not part of the “Train 2 Play Method”.  In the “Train 2 Play method”, we would expect a reduced prevalence of lower back pain and other musculoskeletal injuries.  Furthermore, the risk of injury with training can be dramatically reduced with qualified supervision, appropriate program design and sensible progression of the exercises.

Based on the evidence, there is no justifiable safety reason that would preclude children or adolescents from participating in a plyometric or resistance training programs. Prior to starting an exercise program consultation with a physician or health care provider is advised to assure readiness for training.

(2) Ryan, J and Salciccioli, G. Fractures of the distal radial epiphysis in adolescent weight lifters. Am J Sports Med 4: 26-27, 1976.

(3) Gumbs, V, Segal, D, Halligan, J, and Lower, G. Bilateral distal radius and ulnar fractures in adolescent weight lifters. Am J Sports Med 10: 375-379, 1982. Brown,

(4) E and Kimball, R. Medical history associated with adolescent power lifting. Pediatrics 72: 636-644, 1983.

(5)Brady, T, Cahill, B, and Bodnar, L. Weight training related injuries in the high school athlete. Am J Sports Med 10: 1-5, 1982.

(6) Micheli, L. Strength training in the young athlete. In: Competitive Sports for Children and Youth.

(7) Brown, E and Branta, C eds. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Books, 1988. pp. 99-105.

(8) Micheli, L. Preventing injuries in sports: What the team physician needs to know. In: F.I.M.S. Team Physician Manual (2nd ed.).

(9) Chan, K, Micheli, L, Smith, A, Rolf, C, Bachl, N, Frontera, W, and Alenabi, T, eds. Hong Kong: CD Concept, 2006. pp. 555-572.

10. Micheli L. Strength training in the young athlete. In E. Brown & C. Branta (eds.) Competitive Sports for Children and Youth (pp 99-105). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, NSCA’s Performance Training Journal,

11. Malina, R. Weight training in youth-growth, maturation and safety: An evidenced based review. Clin J Sports Med 16: 478-487, 2006. Fleck, S and Kraemer, W. Designing Resistance Training Programs (3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2004.

12. Chu, D, Faigenbaum, A, and Falkel, J. Progressive Plyometrics for Kids. Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning, 2006.

13. Avery D. Faigenbaum STRENGTH TRAINING FOR CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS. Clinics in Sports Medicine; Volume 19, Issue 4, 1 October 2000, Pages 593–619

14. Johnson, BA, Salzberg, CL, and Stevenson, DA. A systematic review: plyometric training programs for young children. J Strength Cond Res 25(9): 2623-2633, 2011

15. Risser, W, Risser, J, and Preston, D. Weight-training injuries in adolescents. Am J Dis Child 144: 1015-1017, 1990.

16. Brown, E and Kimball, R. Medical history associated with adolescent power lifting. Pediatrics 72: 636-644, 1983.

17. Soares, J, Mota, P, Duarte, J, and Appell, H. Children are less susceptible to exercise-induced muscle damage than adults: A preliminary investigation. Pediatr Exerc Sci 8: 361-367, 1996.


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