Researchers are discovering that resistance training in overweight and obese children and adolescents is having multiple positive effects. For starters it is increasing their time spent in physical activity. It is lowering their body fat, improving their bone density, and increasing their sensitivity to insulin.1 But, there is more. In a 16 weeks study in which youth participated in progressive resistance training, there was also a 96% adherence rate.2 This is key because identifying activities that they like and can excel in is important for our youth to adopt a lifestyle of regular physical activity.
Also psychosocial wellbeing was improved. Part of this is attributed to the growing confidence youth had because of their improved motor skill performance. In other words, overweight and obese children and adolescents tend to have low motor abilities due to little participation in physical activities.3 This in turn negatively affects their confidence. Without confidence there is less chance they will try other activities or even engage in physical activity. But in resistance training programs, overweight and obese youth shine and even excel. They tend to be the strongest students in the class, and they often receive positive feedback from their normal weight peers who are impressed with the amount of weight they can lift for the prescribed number of repetitions.
Furthermore, these at risk youth tend to get bored with cardiovascular activity or it brings discomfort to them. However, with resistance training which is characterized by short periods of physical activity followed by a brief rest period between sets and reps, the youth are enjoying it and sticking with it.
The following are some of the guidelines for resistance training for youth:4
• Provide qualified instruction and supervision
• Children as young as 7-8 years old may participate
• Begin each session with 5-10 minutes of warm up
• Start with 1 light to moderate set of 10-15 repetitions
• Progress to 2-3 sets of 6-15 reps
• Focus on the correct technique rather than the amount of weight lifted
• Train 2-3 times per week on non consecutive days
• In general, adolescents require 1-2 minutes recovery between sets; children as little as 1 minute recovery
• Keep the program fresh and challenging by systematically varying the training program
• Cool down with less intense activities and stretching
Finally, there was not one optimal number of set, reps, and weight. Instead, the emphasis should be to create safe, progressive, programs with regular variations to keep sessions fresh and challenging. Also, any variety or combination of exercise equipment like small apparatus or children’s’ resistance training machines can be used. And of course positive support and close supervision will make the programs successful.
1Faigenbaum A. Resistance training for children and adolescents: Are there health outcomes? Am J Lifestyle Med. 2007;1:190-200.
2 Shaibi GQ, Cruz ML, Ball GD, Weigensberg MJ, Salem GJ, Crespo NC, Goran MI. Effects of resistance training on insulin sensitivity in overweight Latino adolescent males. Med Sci Sports Exerc.2006:38:1208-1215.
3 Stodden D, Goodway J, Langendorfer S, Robertson M, Rudisill M, Garcia C, Garcia L. A developmental perspective on the role of motor skill components in physical activity: An emergent relationship. Quest. 2008; 60:290-306.
4 Faigenbaum A, Westcott W. Youth Strength Training: Programs for Health, Fitness and Sport. Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics, 2009.