Can children be physically trained? Is training healthy for children? Can a child become overtrained? These are just some of the questions that exercise scientists have debated over in the past. “Children are not mini-adults” indicating that our knowledge of exercise for an adult cannot just be scaled down and applied to children. The process of growth and maturation can be difficult in the trainability of children. This process mimics the effects of training and needs to be accounted for when determining the success or failure of an exercise training program (Matos 2007).
“Winners never quit, and quitters never win!” My coaches would always say this throughout my career. As a high school kid, I would say to myself “what does this mean”. Throughout my career and after I have seen the pressure that is being placed on young athletes to win, are young athletes pushing themselves too hard, too soon? Unfortunately, too many are. Overtraining has become a growing problem for young athletes in the competitive and increasingly specialized reality of youth sports. I can tell you from personal experience overtraining is a major problem when developing athlete. Much of the problem stems from the changing nature of youth sports. Unlike teenagers a generation ago, who participated in two or three different sports, today’s young athletes tend to specialize in only one sport from a young age.
Matos (2007) examined exercise adaptations to strength, anaerobic and aerobic training have been extensively studied in adults, and however, young people appear to respond differently to such exercise stimulus in comparison to adults. In addition, because overtraining in young athletes has received little attention, this important area is also discussed. Resistance training in children can be safe and effective. It has the potential to improve sport performance, enhance body composition and reduce the rate of sport incurred injury. Furthermore, with the appropriate stimulus, prepubertal and adolescent athletes can show significant increments in muscle strength (13 – 30%). Children can improve anaerobic power (3%-10% Mean Power and 4%-20% in Peak Power), although the mechanisms responsible for the improvements in children remain unclear. Children show a ‘reduced’ trainability of peak VO2 in comparison to adults. Nevertheless, their aerobic power is trainable, with improvements reported at approximately 5%. Moreover, improvements in other variables like exercise economy or lactate threshold may occur without significant changes in peak VO2. The evidence available indicates that overtraining is occurring in young athletes (30% prevalence), highlighting the importance of further research in to all the possible contributing factors – physiological, psychological and emotional – when investigating overtraining. Children’s strength, anaerobic and aerobic power is trainable, although the improvements may be smaller than seen in adults. Children can demonstrate significant gains in muscle strength with resistance training (13 – 30%). Improvements in mean power (3 – 10%) and peak power (4 – 20%) are reported in children. Aerobic fitness can improve with training in children by approximately 5%.
Children’s strength, anaerobic and aerobic power is possible to train, although the improvements may be smaller than seen in adults. The mechanisms responsible remain to be conclusively determined, but improvements in non-invasive technologies will aid our ability to investigate these issues for children in the future (Matos 2007). Overtraining seems to be present in some young athletes, yet there needs to be more research to recognize the signs and symptoms that identify the central determining factors to allow us to help prevent this condition arising in the first place.
Personal training at COR focuses on individualization allowing for faster and more precise results. Our individualized personal training programs begin with a movement screen and interview to determine any flaws causing or risking injury, as well as weak points potentially causing physical limitations. Nutrition advice (weight loss or sports performance) and supplement counseling is provided for proper fueling or metabolic efficiency. Mobility techniques (if needed) are used to improve any muscular limitations.
1. Matos N, Winsley RJ. Trainability of young athletes and overtraining. J Sports Sci Med. 2007 Sep 1;6(3):353-67.
Written by Chris Barber, CPT