November 22, 2013
What if everything we “know” about resistance training for children is based on myth? Chris Cooper investigates.
In 1842, England’s Children’s Employment Commission observed a disturbing trend: children working in coal mines were notably shorter than other British children. This was cause for alarm. In their rudimentary version of the Sickness-Wellness-Fitness Continuum, 19th-century British scientists used height as a primary indicator for health. A short child was, by definition, unhealthy.
The commission blamed the laborious nature of coal mining for stunting the growth of its child workers. The heavy loads, it rationalized, permanently compressed the skeleton. To achieve “normal” height, therefore, children should remain unburdened by external load until they reached physical maturity.
Though now thoroughly discredited by sport science, stories like these from child-labor hotspots worldwide resonate with parents, coaches and nervous onlookers alike. Position papers from leading scientific authorities now advocate resistance training but still shy away from “heavy” or “repetitive” lifts. All espouse the benefits of a “properly designed training program” implemented by an “expert,” but none seem confident enough to actually recommend a program.
So what do we really know about resistance training for children? What’s best for our kids?