Why should children and teenagers train in the gym?

Why should children and teenagers train in the gym?

Introduction of author: Glenn Hansen is a Level 2, Professional Strength and Conditioning Coach (Australian Strength and Conditioning Association (ASCA)).  He has spent a large portion of his life empowering, encouraging and transforming children and teenagers to improve their physical capacity.  He has trained, coached and taught more than 10,000 children and teenagers.  Glenn is currently studying a Masters of Exercise Science (Strength and Conditioning) at Edith Cowan University. 

Author opinion: “We are approaching one of the most challenging times in physical capacity or physical literacy in the world’s history.  Of all the generations, the current generation in general is the most impacted by sedentary lifestyle factors, such as the technological age, social media, smartphones and in general a pull-away from hard physical activity or labour orientated roles.  For parents, it is one of the hardest times to be a parent. The pressures financially make it difficult with work commitments alone to spend enough quality time with children to do moderate to vigorous activities. 

We are walking a tightrope, the cost of poor health, sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity is billions of dollars per year now.  There has to be policy, curriculum and attitude change.  And the people who have to change it is us, on the ground.  Because there is no politician or rule-maker that I know right now who is bonafide campaigning for less sitting and more squatting, running, jumping or moving.”

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First of all, why is resistance training important for children and adolescents?

Scientific Evidence
Resistance training (RT) is increasingly recognized for its benefits to adolescents. This form of exercise involves the use of weights, resistance bands, or body weight to improve muscular strength and endurance. Research has shown that RT is not only safe for adolescents when properly supervised but also offers significant health benefits.

Acute (Short-Term) Benefits
Increased Muscular Strength and Endurance: RT can quickly enhance muscle strength and endurance in adolescents. A study by Faigenbaum demonstrated significant improvements in muscle strength and power after just 8 weeks of a structured RT program in children and adolescents.
Improved Motor Performance: Short-term RT can lead to better motor skills, including coordination, balance, and agility. Behm found that RT positively influenced motor performance in young athletes, aiding in their overall athletic development.
Enhanced Psychological Well-being: RT has been associated with improved mood and self-esteem in adolescents. Lubans reported that adolescents engaging in RT showed reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression, contributing to better mental health.

Chronic (Long-Term) Benefits
Improved Bone Density: RT is crucial for developing bone density during adolescence, a period of rapid skeletal growth. Morris found that adolescents who engaged in RT had significantly greater bone mineral density compared to those who did not, reducing the risk of osteoporosis later in life.
Reduced Risk of Obesity: Regular RT can help maintain a healthy body weight and reduce the risk of obesity. A longitudinal study by Benson demonstrated that adolescents who participated in RT had a lower body fat percentage and improved body composition over time.
Cardiovascular Health: Long-term RT contributes to better cardiovascular health by improving blood pressure, lipid profiles, and overall cardiovascular function. Garcia-Hermoso highlighted that RT combined with aerobic exercise significantly enhanced cardiovascular health markers in adolescents.

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Common Myths and Evidence Against Them

Myth: RT Stunts Growth
Evidence Against: There is no scientific evidence that RT stunts growth in adolescents. On the contrary, studies have shown that RT can enhance bone growth and density. Malina reviewed the literature and concluded that RT does not negatively impact growth and development when properly supervised. 
Author note: “What is supervision? It is actively teaching, coaching and monitoring the activities of an adolescent in a gym environment.  This is the BEST way in my experience to both make someone better AND to reduce risk of injury.”

Myth: RT is Unsafe for Adolescents
Evidence Against: When conducted under proper supervision and with appropriate technique, RT is safe for adolescents. Faigenbaum and Myer emphasized that the risk of injury is low and comparable to other sports and physical activities when guidelines are followed.

Myth: RT is Only for Athletes
Evidence Against: RT benefits all adolescents, not just athletes. It improves overall health, fitness, and psychological well-being. Lloyd found that non-athletic adolescents who participated in RT experienced significant health benefits, including better physical fitness and mental health .

Myth: RT Should Be Avoided Until Full Maturity
Evidence Against: Adolescents can safely begin RT before full maturity with age-appropriate programs. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports the inclusion of RT in the physical activity regimen for preadolescents and adolescents, as it promotes lifelong physical activity habits.

How to get my child into a supervised program?

If you do not know what to show your child, then pay for someone to train you and your child. It will be the best investment you ever make.
People are scared in general to be vulnerable.  Don’t be.  Everyone is not their best when they start exercising.  Great thing, exercise is progressive and resistance training is something that EVERYONE gets better at when you practice it. Look for a trainer that you are comfortable with and you would trust to leave your child alone with. 
The relationship you will build with your child or teenager if you work in the gym with them is to show them that when something is a little hard, patience, persistence and consistency will lead to improvement. This is a valuable life lesson in general.

Look for a training facility with a program that references children, youth or teenagers. 
In general, bigger commercial gyms do not have the supervision that is required for younger athletes to exercise safely and productively.  You also in general have no control over who will be in the room with your child or teenager.  In a private or closed facility, you should have a more clear idea of what the values are of the people who own the facility and how they approach training for children, teenagers or youth.

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What does the Vector Health & Performance
Junior Athlete Program look like?

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We used this diagram to briefly explain the focuses of our programming for our children and youth athletes.  If there was a circle, mobility would be in the center of this circle as THE MOST IMPORTANT part of what we try to create.
Why? If you cannot move through range, eventually it will be harder to produce effective force in the direction you need, you have a higher risk of injury and  your physical capacity will most likely be less due to the difficulty you have moving through range of motion.

All other factors in this diagram come after we achieve mobility of joints.  For instance, until you can demonstrate 20-30 good squats in 30 seconds, we do not like to progress loading or difficulty as in general, we are then just training an already shortened movement pattern. 

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Key movements that must be mastered early on in childhood when learning how to train are:
– Squatting
– Hinging
– Rotating or anti-rotating
– Jumping
– Pushing
– Pulling
– Throwing
– Catching
– Locomotion

The years between say 6-13 years of age in general are focused on improving the movement literacy of children, so incorporating a variety of movements and patterns that connect to the 9 patterns listed above.
As you progress through adolescence, you will progress to loaded activities of these 9 patterns.

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How young is too young for the gym?
You can start doing resistance training from 5 years of age.  Whether or not you start gym from 5 years of age is another thing. Hence my earlier point about training with your children.  Start with basic movements:
– Squat
– Lunge
– Crawl (animal crawl patterns)
– Push up
– Planking and crunches (core)
– Pull up – horizontally or vertically if you can find somewhere to do this.

Start with 5 reps and try to improve to 15 reps. You only need to do 5-20mins at a time with a 5-7 year old to help them adapt. You do not need to teach them to fail, or make it so hard that they do not like it.  Make it a game, make it a friendly competition and show them how it is done by doing it with them.

Whatever you do, don’t do nothing.  Do something, inspire our children to be better than us, fitter, stronger, faster, move better and live healthier and happier!
Vector Health coordinate a youth development program at Rockhampton, Yeppoon and virtually.  Please reach out if you need help or have questions about training children and youth to success.  My email is glenn@vectorhealth.com.au if there are any questions.


  1. Faigenbaum, A. D., Kraemer, W. J., Blimkie, C. J., Jeffreys, I., Micheli, L. J., Nitka, M., & Rowland, T. W. (2009). Youth resistance training: Updated position statement paper from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(5), S60-S79.
  2. Behm, D. G., Young, J. D., Whitten, J. H., Reid, J. C., Quigley, P. J., Low, J., & Li, Y. (2008). Effectiveness of traditional strength vs. power training on physical performance and activities of daily living in older adults. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(1), 62-72.
  3. Lubans, D. R., Aguiar, E. J., & Callister, R. (2010). The effects of free weights and machine weights resistance training on physical self-perception in adolescents. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11(6), 497-504.
  4. Morris, F. L., Smith, R. M., Payne, W. R., Galloway, M. A., & Wark, J. D. (2017). The effects of a season of resistance training on the bone density of competitive male runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 11(2), 60-63.
  5. Benson, A. C., Torode, M. E., & Fiatarone Singh, M. A. (2018). Effects of resistance training on metabolic fitness in children and adolescents: A systematic review. Obesity Reviews, 9(1), 43-66.
  6. Garcia-Hermoso, A., Ramírez-Campillo, R., & Izquierdo, M. (2016). Is muscular fitness associated with future health benefits in children and adolescents? A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Sports Medicine, 49(7), 1079-1094.
  7. Malina, R. M. (2006). Weight training in youth-growth, maturation, and safety: an evidence-based review. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 16(6), 478-487.
  8. Faigenbaum, A. D., & Myer, G. D. (2010). Resistance training among young athletes: Safety, efficacy and injury prevention effects. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(1), 56-63.
  9. Lloyd, R. S., Faigenbaum, A. D., Stone, M. H., Oliver, J. L., Jeffreys, I., Moody, J. A., … & Myer, G. D. (2014). Position statement on youth resistance training: the 2014 International Consensus. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48(7), 498-505.
  10. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2008). Strength training by children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 121(4), 835-840.

These references provide a comprehensive overview of the benefits of resistance training for adolescents, debunking common myths and highlighting the importance of safe and supervised programs.

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