Many coaches and parents wonder which training methods are safe and effective for kids. School-aged children often participate in athletics and sometimes scholarships are even on the line. Some of the most popular kinds of training for kids are traditional weight lifting, plyometrics, and Olympic weightlifting. In a study this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers looked at the effectiveness of each of these modalities.
Traditional resistance training methods, which are essentially basic weight lifting programs, are thought to be good for kids because of their proven track record. In addition, traditional weight lifting favors the development of lean muscle mass and strength. In theory, this effect would help child athletes perform better at their sport.
The second group of exercises the researchers studied was plyometrics. Plyometric exercises are seen as closer to what an athlete actually experiences when competing. The basic idea with plyometrics is to develop power, and this end is achieved by mimicking reactions that occur normally in sports.
The Olympic lifts are a hybridization of traditional weight lifting and plyometrics. They combine the advantages of weight lifting, like structured progression, with the fast power development of plyometrics. The downside of the Olympic lifts, however, is that out of these three categories, they are the most complex to perform safely.
The kids who participated in the study were pre-teens, ranging from ten to twelve years old. They had not completed a structured fitness program in the past. For twelve weeks, they either completed one of these programs, or they were in a control group that did not do any of these programs. The participants were tested before the program and again after they had completed it.
Each of the three training programs outperformed the control group, which was no surprise. When compared to the traditional weight lifting program, Olympic lifting and plyometrics caused a greater increase in performance in almost every category, including force production, power production, and speed. Since plyos and Olympic lifts are similar to many of the variables the researchers tested, that’s not much of a surprise. However, the plyos and Olympic lifting also increased force production, which is a bit more surprising. You would think that resistance training would work better for force production, but not according to this study.
Despite the authors’ assurances that these methods are completely safe, they also acknowledge the time it takes to learn the Olympic lifts. I have worked with countless kids, and many times enforcing safe form can be difficult. I think the researchers’ recommendations might be a bit liberal, especially in the case of group weight training, where it’s harder to ensure proper form. But it seems that performance-wise, Olympic lifts and plyos might be better for kids after all. With good coaching, these training approaches can be safe as well.
1. Anis Chaouachi, et. al., “Olympic weightlifting and plyometric training with children provides similar or greater performance improvements than traditional resistance training,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000305
Photo courtesy of CrossFit LA.