Youth Strength Training 2nd edition

by Avery Faigenbaum and Wayne Westcott

Author Avery Faigenbaum and Wayne Westcott Isbn 978 0736067928 File size 20 Mb Year 2009 Pages 248 Language English File format PDF Category Fitness The benefits of strength training for youth are clearly documented Yet teachers fitness instructors and youth coaches are often not sure how to proceed and they end up watering down adult versions of strength training programs That is definitely not the way to go But authors Avery Faigenbaum and Wayne Westcott with their 50 years of combin

Publisher :

Author : Avery Faigenbaum and Wayne Westcott

ISBN : 978 0736067928

Year : 2009

Language: English

File Size : 20 Mb

Category : Fitness

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Faigenbaum, Avery D., 1961 Youth strength training : programs for health, fitness, and sport /
Avery D. Faigenbaum, Wayne L. Westcott. -- 2nd ed.

p. cm. -- (Strength & power for young athletes)
Rev. ed. of: Strength & power for young athletes, c2000.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-0-7360-6792-8 (soft cover)
ISBN-10: 0-7360-6792-2 (soft cover)
1. Exercise for children. 2. Physical fitness for children. I.
Westcott, Wayne L., 1949- II. Faigenbaum, Avery D., 1961- Strength &
power for young athletes. III. Title.
RJ133.F35 2009

ISBN-10: 0-7360-6792-2 (print)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7360-6792-8 (print)

ISBN-10: 0-7360-8761-3 (Adobe PDF)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7360-8761-2 (Adobe PDF)

Copyright © 2009, 2000 by Avery D. Faigenbaum and Wayne L. Westcott
All rights reserved. Except for use in a review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying, and recording, and in any information
storage and retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
Notice: Permission to reproduce the following material is granted to instructors and agencies who have purchased Youth Strength
Training: Programs for Health, Fitness, and Sport: p. 30. The reproduction of other parts of this book is expressly forbidden by the
above copyright notice. Persons or agencies who have not purchased Youth Strength Training: Programs for Health, Fitness, and
Sport may not reproduce any material.
This book is a revised edition of Strength & Power for Young Athletes, published in 2000 by Human Kinetics.
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We thank the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, for assistance in providing the location for the photo shoot for this book.
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It is with great appreciation
that we dedicate this book to the hundreds of boys and girls
who have participated so enthusiastically in our strength training programs,
to their most accommodating parents
who genuinely appreciated the importance
of developing a strong musculoskeletal system at a young age,
and to all the fitness professionals and physical education teachers
with whom we have worked to help youth understand
the value of regular strength training as a lifestyle choice.



Foreword  vii  •  Acknowledgments  ix  •  Introduction  xi

Part I  Fitness Fundamentals

Ready to Train


Strength Training Versus Weightlifting, Powerlifting, and Bodybuilding  5  • 
FUNdamental Fitness  6  •  Muscles, Bones, and Connective Tissue  7  • 
Program Assessment  8  •  Getting Ready  12  •  Summary  16


Program Prescriptions


Training Guidelines  18  •  Program Considerations  22  •  Play Education  23  • 
Summary  24


Exercise Technique and Training Procedures


Understanding Children  26  •  Being a Teacher  28  •  Developing the Fitness Workout  29  •  Using Equipment Safely  29  •  Keeping It Progressive  32  •  Summary  32

Part II  Exercises

Free Weights


Training With Free Weights  36  •  Free-Weight Exercises  38  •  Summary  72


Weight Machines


Training on Weight Machines  74  •  Weight Machine Exercises  74  •  Summary  97


Elastic Bands and Medicine Balls


Training With Elastic Bands and Medicine Balls  101  •  Elastic Band Exercises  101  • 
Medicine Ball Exercises  112  •  Summary  137


Body-Weight Training
Using Body Weight as Resistance  140  •  Body-Weight Exercises  141  •  Summary  165



Part III  Program Design

General Preparation


Preparatory Conditioning  169  •  Training Youth  170  •  Dynamic Motivation  172  •  Summary  173


Basic Strength and Power for Ages 7 to 10


Components of the Warm-Up and Cool-Down  178  •  Strength-Training
Program  179  •  Strength-Training Exercises  179  •  Training Considerations  183  •  Summary  184


Intermediate Strength and Power for
Ages 11 to 14


Components of the Warm-Up and Cool-Down  185  •  Strength-Training
Program  185  •  Machine Strength-Training Exercises  186  •  Free-Weight StrengthTraining Exercises  188  •  Medicine Ball Strength-Training Exercises  188  •  Training
Considerations  189  •  Summary  192


Advanced Strength and Power for
Ages 15 to 18


Components of the Warm-Up and Cool-Down  194  •  Strength-Training
Program  194  •  Machine and Free-Weight Strength-Training Exercises  195  • 
Medicine Ball and Elastic Band Strength-Training Exercises  195  •  Training
Considerations  197  •  Summary  200


Sport-Specific Strength and Power for
Young Athletes


Training for Sport Conditioning  202  •  Baseball and Softball  203  •  Basketball and
Volleyball  203  •  Dancing and Figure Skating  204  •  Football and Rugby  204  •  Ice
Hockey and Field Hockey  205  •  Soccer  205  •  Swimming  206  •  Tennis  206  • 
Track: Sprints and Jumps  206  •  Track: Distance Running  207  •  Summary  207

Part IV  Long-Term Planning and
Nutritional Support

Periodization and Recovery


Overreaching and Overtraining  212  •  Models of Periodization  213  •  Rest and
Recovery  214  •  Long-Term Development  216  •  Summary  216


Eating for Strength and Performance


Basics of Healthy Eating  218  •  Children’s Nutritional Needs  222  •  Hydration  224  •  Snack Foods  224  •  Summary  225
Appendix: Sample Workout Log  226  •  Suggested Readings  227  • 
Index  229  •  About the Authors  235

I am pleased to introduce Avery Faigenbaum and
Wayne Westcott’s book Youth Strength Training:
Programs for Health, Fitness, and Sport. Their first
book on this topic (Strength & Power for Young
Athletes), published in 2000, was groundbreaking because it introduced the principles as well
as the practical aspects of developing safe and
effective strength-training programs for children
and adolescents.
Using the 2000 book as its foundation, this
new edition presents a large scope of new information on youth strength-training programs.
This reflects the growing interest and research
in this area as well as the experience of strength
and fitness professionals in the training of young
athletes. Although much has been learned in
the intervening years, it is still apparent that
teachers and coaches need to follow the ageappropriate strength-training guidelines that
Drs. Faigenbaum and Westcott present in this
well-researched text.
The International Olympic Committee’s Consensus Statement on Training the Elite Child
Athlete, which was published in March of 2008 in
the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, is a summary
of the available scientific information regarding training elite child athletes. This consensus
statement notes the need for further research in
this area because there is increased emphasis on
systematic training and participation in organized
sports by children and adolescents. Despite this
worldwide trend and concerns about the safety

and efficacy of sport conditioning for this age
group, the authors have provided sensible and
specific exercise guidelines for youth strength
training based on their two decades of research
on this topic.
Youth Strength Training: Programs for Health,
Fitness, and Sport contains the most current scientifically based information on strength and
power training for young athletes. This new
edition is even more detailed and specific in its
recommendations for developing enjoyable and
effective strength-training programs for youth
of all abilities. Although the focus of this book is
on the training of young athletes, the principles
embodied here can be used for any child or
adolescent as part of a general conditioning and
fitness program.
I highly recommend this book for anyone
involved in the training of children and adolescents. It is a valuable resource that you will turn
to frequently for assistance in designing youth
strength-training programs.
Lyle J. Micheli, MD
O’Donnell family professor
of orthopaedic sports medicine
Children’s Hospital Boston,
Harvard Medical School
Director of Division of Sports Medicine
Children’s Hospital Boston
Past president of American College
of Sports Medicine




It is a great privilege to acknowledge the many
gifted individuals who so generously gave their
time and talents in helping us write this book.
We are most grateful for the professional leadership at Human Kinetics. We especially appreciate
the editorial expertise of Melissa Feld and the
superb photography skills of Neil Bernstein. We
thank Gabrielle Burgess, Gary Burgess, Andrew
DeLacey, Lisa DeLacey, and Jennifer DeLacey for
demonstrating correct exercise technique for the
photos. We are also indebted to the parents of the
models, Gary and Diane Burgess and Brian and
Lynn DeLacey, for their unwavering support of our
youth strength-training programs and extraordinary assistance during the photo sessions.
We are particularly grateful to registered
dietitian Debra Wein for her nutrition advice

and Rita LaRosa-Loud for her innovative leadership in our youth strength-training classes. We
appreciate the support from Patrick Mediate,
Jim McFarland, and Tracy Radler, who allowed
us to use their weight rooms and gymnasiums
as our research labs. We especially thank Ralph
Yohe and the directors of the South Shore YMCA
for our state-of-the-art youth strength-training
We thank the many student interns who have
provided outstanding exercise instruction and
research assistance in our youth strength-training
programs. Finally, we sincerely appreciate the
support of Dr. Lyle Micheli and his sports medicine staff at Boston Children’s Hospital for our
youth strength-training programs over the past
20 years.


Our first edition of Youth Strength Training: Programs for Health, Fitness, and Sport presented the
physiological and psychological benefits associated with regular resistance exercise in boys
and girls 7 to 15 years of age. In the nine years
since the publication of the first edition, we
have completed more research studies, compiled
more data, taught more unfit children, worked
with more youth athletes, and presented more
pertinent information in the area of muscular conditioning programs for young people.
One of the most compelling reasons for youth
strength training is the development of a strong
musculoskeletal system that can withstand the
rigors of sport participation as well as ward off
the degenerative effects of the aging process. We
now know that the time to build bone is during
the preteen through teenage years and that children who regularly perform resistance exercise
increase bone mineral density several times as
fast as those who do not strength train.
Another health benefit of youth strength
training is improved body composition, which
is particularly important in light of the present
epidemic of childhood obesity. One out of three
children is challenged by excessive body fat, and
these boys and girls are poorly suited for both
endurance-type exercise and fast-paced athletic
activities, which they typically avoid at all costs.
Fortunately, they generally enjoy performing
resistance exercise, most likely because they
compare more favorably with their lighter peers
and they find the training effects highly reinforcing (that is, they look better, feel better, and
function better).
When it comes to sport participation, few
things rival resistance exercise for reducing risk
of injury and enhancing athletic performance.
Tiger Woods is a perfect example of this, as are
the members of the women’s cross-country team
at Notre Dame High School in Hingham, Massachusetts. Over a four-year period, these female
athletes combined their running workouts with

sensible strength training under our supervision.
The results were remarkable. The superbly conditioned Notre Dame teams (15 varsity runners and
15 junior varsity runners) won four consecutive
New England cross-country championships and
had only one injury during the entire four years
of competition. Contrary to the misconceptions
that strength training increases the potential for
injury and decreases endurance performance, the
facts are that properly executed strength exercise
enhances running economy and reduces the risk
of muscle overuse and imbalance problems.
Although our first book focused on the safety
and effectiveness of youth strength training,
we now have new research for designing more
efficient, enjoyable, productive, and practical
programs of strength exercise for young people
of various ages and abilities. In addition to our
studies on workout frequency, exercise sets and
repetitions, and related training components, we
have examined other factors that affect program
design for both sport conditioning and general
fitness for essentially all boys and girls. In fact,
the primary focus of this book is to help physical
education teachers, coaches, and parents provide
the best program of resistance exercise for youth
to develop a functional level of strength fitness
and a desirable body composition. Our research
indicates that improving these physical characteristics is reinforcing to all young people regardless
of size, shape, or athletic abilities.
In addition to producing more effective and
efficient strength-training programs, our new
research has led to the development of more
productive protocols for warming up and cooling
down, more acceptable procedures for enhancing
joint flexibility, and more innovative means of
incorporating resistance exercises into physical
education classes, sport practice sessions, and
exercise facilities at YMCAs, fitness centers,
and home settings. Recently, we implemented
a strength-training program with medicine
balls at a local high school. The results were so




impressive and the students enjoyed the program so much that this program is now part of a
statewide physical education curriculum in 1st
through 12th grade. This school is now ranked
as one of the top schools in the state for physical
fitness assessment scores.
We have also expanded our information in
the areas of nutrition and recovery to maximize
the beneficial effects of strength exercise for all
children as well as to minimize the risks of overtraining in young athletes. Emphasis is placed on
a broad base of balanced muscle development for
every boy and girl, and the secondary objective
is performing more specific strength-training
protocols for youth who participate in various
sports and recreational activities. Once they
achieve an acceptable level of overall muscle
conditioning, youth sport participants will find
more comprehensive strength-training programs
for numerous athletic activities within the general categories of power sports, jumping sports,
striking sports, and endurance sports.
Teachers, coaches, and parents who incorporate our latest muscular conditioning programs
should see high rates of strength development
and few overuse injuries among their young
trainees. Because children are not miniature
adults, we do not simply offer a watered-down
version of adult strength-training programs. In
fact, children of various ages and developmental levels respond best to specifically designed
protocols of resistance exercise. We therefore
present age-specific strength-training programs
for students in elementary school (7 to 10 years),
middle school (11 to 14 years), and high school
(15 to 18 years). Because children experience
varying rates of physiological development, we
provide guidelines for individualizing the general

exercise protocols within each age group. We also
present a specially designed section on athletic
conditioning for a variety of sports. The information is comprehensive, and the organization is
easy to understand and apply.
Based on our combined 50 years of experience in teaching youth strength-training classes
and coaching all kinds of athletes, as well as our
research on instructional techniques, we devote
an entire chapter to the art and science of educating and motivating young people to properly
perform resistance exercise. Toward this end, we
place a strong emphasis on exercise selection and
performance, as evidenced by the clear illustrations and precise descriptions of more than 100
resistance exercises using weight stack machines,
free weights, medicine balls, elastic bands, and
body-weight resistance.
We believe that proper exercise technique
is the most critical concern in presenting and
instructing youth strength-training programs.
Although the number of exercises, sets, and repetitions youth perform are important aspects of
workout design, how they perform each exercise,
set, and repetition has even more impact on the
safety and success of their training sessions. And
that is the underlying theme throughout this
book: training for the right purpose and purposely training in the right manner to maximize
musculoskeletal development and minimize risk
of injury in children and young athletes. If you
are interested in childhood obesity, youth fitness, or sport conditioning, then Youth Strength
Training: Programs for Health, Fitness, and Sport is
the definitive text for implementing efficient
and research-based exercise programs for your
children, physical education classes, and sport

Part I






to T

Children and adolescents need to participate regularly (i.e., most days of the week) in 60 minutes
or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity
that is developmentally appropriate, enjoyable,
and varied. While aerobic activities such as swimming and bicycling are generally recommended for
youth, scientific evidence and clinical impressions
indicate that strength training can offer unique
benefits for boys and girls provided that ageappropriate training guidelines are followed. With
proper guidance and instruction, regular participation in a youth strength-training program can
have favorable effects on musculoskeletal health,
body composition, cardiovascular risk factors, fitness performance, and psychological well-being.
Furthermore, a stronger musculoskeletal system
will enable youth to perform life’s daily activities
with more energy and vigor and may increase
young athletes’ resistance to sport-related injuries.
During our youth, physical activity did not
involve a conscious decision to engage in planned
exercise; rather, it was what we did on a regular
basis before, during, and after school. Regular
physical activities that involved running, jumping, lifting, balancing, throwing, and kicking not
only kept our bodies healthy, fit, and strong, but
were important for our cognitive, motor skill,
and social development. But today, youth seem
to spend more time in front of televisions and
computer screens than at the playground. The
bottom line is that a sedentary lifestyle during
childhood and adolescence may increase the
risk of developing some chronic diseases such as
heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis later in
life. Thus, it is even more important to encourage youth to be physically active on most days

of the week as part of play, recreation, physical
education, sports, and transportation.
Physical education teachers, youth coaches,
and fitness instructors need to create opportunities for boys and girls of all abilities to be physically active. While organized sport programs certainly have their place, participation in physical
activity should not begin with competitive sport;
it should evolve out of preparatory conditioning
that includes strength training. That is, children
should participate in a variety of physical activities that enhance their motor performance skills
and improve their musculoskeletal strength in
order to better prepare them for the demands of
daily sport practice and competition. Focusing
entirely on specific sport skills at an early age
not only limits the ability of children to succeed
at tasks outside a narrow physical spectrum but
also discriminates against children whose motor
skills develop at a slower pace.
Our youth fitness pyramid (figure 1.1) illustrates the importance of first preparing the musculoskeletal systems of youth for the demands of
more vigorous physical activity and sport competition through regular participation in general
exercise and what we call FUNdamental fitness
conditioning. Unlike other physical activity pyramids that focus on early sport participation, the
youth fitness pyramid highlights the importance
of FUNdamental fitness conditioning (which
includes strength, power, aerobic, flexibility, and
agility exercises) before sport-specific training
and competition. Enjoyable youth programs that
develop both health- and skill-related components
of physical fitness will be more likely to spark a
lifelong interest in physical activity and sport.

Fitness Fundamentals


Figure 1.1   Youth fitness pyramid.

of Pediatrics, the American College of Sports
You’ve probably heard that
children should
Medicine, the American Council on Exercise,
not train with weights because it doesn’t work,
the British Association for Sport and Exercise
places too much stress on growing muscles, or is
Science, the Canadian Society for Exercise Physidangerous. Categorically, all of these reasons are
ology, the National Association for Sport and
misconceptions. As you are undoubtedly aware,
Physical Education, and the National Strength
strength-building exercise can be beneficial to
and Conditioning Association, have published
growing boys and girls. However, because children
guidelines for youth strength training. That’s
are not miniature adults, you must progress caua pretty impressive list of supporters for youth
tiously when training young people. Over the past
strength training.
several years, research has clearly demonstrated
that strength exercise is a safe, effective, and
Furthermore, the American Alliance for
efficient means for conditioning young muscles,
Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance
as long as certain safety precautions are in place.
developed a comprehensive school-based proFortunately, all the boys and girls in our program
gram called Physical Best, which enhances young
have increased their muscular strength, and not
people’s ability to perform physical activities that
one has had an exercise-related injury. This is
require aerobic fitness, joint flexibility, and musmost likely due to the careful supervision that we
cular strength. By incorporating components of
provide to all our strength-training participants.
health-related physical fitness into the elementary and secondary school curricula, school-age
Others also recommend strength training
youth will gain the knowledge and confidence
for young people. Several medical and fitness
they need in order to be physically active adults.
organizations, including the American Academy

Ready to Train


In addition, strength training during childhood
and adolescence may provide the foundation for
dramatic gains in muscle strength during adulthood. Thus, the key issue is not only appreciating
the potential health-related benefits of strength
training for youth but understanding how to
provide children and adolescents with the skills,
knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors that lead to
a lifetime of muscle-enhancing physical activity.
What’s more, regular participation in a youth
strength-training program can have a favorable impact on skill-related fitness components,
including power, speed, balance, coordination,
agility, and reaction time. Although a high degree
of skill-related fitness is not a prerequisite for
a lifetime of physical activity, confidence and
competence in the ability to perform skills that
require balance, coordination, and power can
indeed contribute to a person’s health and fitness throughout both youth and adult years. For
example, since strength training can enhance
muscular strength and muscular power, which
are required for success in all sports including
tennis, basketball, and track, it is likely that youth
who strength train will perform better than those
who do not strength train.
Moreover, as sport performance improves, the
activity will become more enjoyable and therefore participants will be more likely to stick with
it. Thus, unlike other modes of exercise training
that typically isolate fitness components, strength
training provides physical education teachers with
an opportunity to integrate health- and skillrelated fitness components into a comprehensive
physical education program in which all children
can feel challenged while they enhance both
health- and skill-related fitness abilities (see table
1.1). While it is important not to overemphasize
skill development, we believe the best approach
is to teach all students to recognize the value of
both health- and skill-related fitness components.

Strength training provides physical education teachers with an opportunity to
integrate health- and skill-related fitness
components into a comprehensive physical
education program in which all children can
feel challenged while they enhance both
health- and skill-related fitness abilities.

Table 1.1  Components
of Fitness

Skill-related fitness

Aerobic fitness


Muscular strength
and endurance



Reaction time

Body composition


Strength Training Versus
Weightlifting, Powerlifting,
and Bodybuilding
Strength training is different from weightlifting,
powerlifting, and bodybuilding. By definition,
strength training is a planned and structured
means of exercising with appropriate resistance
that a participant gradually progresses as the
musculoskeletal system becomes stronger. Children and adolescents can perform strength training with a variety of equipment, such as weight
machines, free weights (barbells and dumbbells),
elastic bands, medicine balls, or body weight
alone. Properly designed and supervised youth
strength-training programs should involve enjoyable activities in which every participant gains
strength and experiences success in a safe and
supportive exercise environment.
Weightlifting and powerlifting are competitive
sports in which participants typically train with
moderate and heavy weights in order to maximize
gains in muscle strength and muscle power. In the
sport of weightlifting, athletes perform the clean
and jerk and snatch exercises; in the sport of powerlifting, athletes perform the squat, bench press,
and deadlift exercises. Bodybuilding is a competitive sport in which the goal is to maximize gains in
muscle size, symmetry, and definition. Although
many of the exercises that weightlifters, powerlifters, and bodybuilders perform are described in
this book, we focus on the principles and programs

Fitness Fundamentals


for designing progressive youth strength-training
programs that are fundamental for all school-age
youth. Model programs for young competitive
lifters are available through professional organizations such as USA Weightlifting. Other terms commonly used in designing youth strength-training
programs are defined in table 1.2.

Properly designed and supervised youth
strength-training programs should
involve enjoyable activities in which every
participant gains strength and experiences success in a safe and supportive
exercise environment.

FUNdamental Fitness
There are two broad categories of youth, and
both need strength training to develop and
enhance fundamental locomotor (e.g., running),
nonlocomotor (e.g., lifting), and manipulative
(i.e., throwing) skills that are the components
of most games and sports. The larger category
consists of those boys and girls who engage in
little physical activity on a regular basis. Unlike
children in earlier generations, they don’t do
many physical chores, don’t play backyard sports,
don’t have many physical education classes, and
don’t engage in much vigorous activity. Sadly,
increasing urbanization has resulted in a lack of
safe play areas, and many boys and girls spend
most of their free time in passive pursuits such

Table 1.2  Definition of Common Terms



The ability to quickly decelerate, change direction, and accelerate again.


The maintenance or control of a body position.


The ability of various muscles to work together to produce a specific movement.

Local muscular

The ability to perform repeated repetitions with a submaximal, or moderate, load.


The ability to perform physical activities that require muscular strength, muscular
power, or local muscular endurance.


A type of power training that consists of jumping, hopping, and throwing activities.


The rate of performing work. The product of force and velocity.


A response to a stimulus.


One complete movement of an exercise.


The maximum number of repetitions that can be performed with a given


A group of repetitions performed continuously without resting.


The ability to achieve high velocity.


The maximal amount of force a muscle or muscle group can generate.


Also called resistance training. A specialized method of conditioning that involves
the progressive use of a wide variety of resistive loads and a variety of training
modalities designed to enhance muscular fitness.

Ready to Train


as watching television, playing video games, or
surfing the Internet. This lack of regular physical
activity has contributed to the unabated increase
in the prevalence of obesity among children
and adolescents. Over the past three decades,
the prevalence of childhood obesity has more
than doubled for adolescents and has more than
tripled for children. And the likelihood that an
obese child will become an obese adult is both
real and alarming.
Since obese youth may lack the motor skills
and confidence to be physically active, they may
actually perceive physical activity to be discomforting and embarrassing. Thus, these youth desperately need strength training to condition their
muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones because
a fundamental level of musculoskeletal fitness
is essential for youth to experience and enjoy
a physically active lifestyle. Although strength
training is not often associated with a high caloric
expenditure, obese youth are less willing and
often unable to participate in prolonged periods
of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise. Not
only does excess body weight hinder the performance of weight-bearing physical activity such as
jogging, but the risk of musculoskeletal overuse
injuries is also a concern.
Strength training provides obese youth with a
positive activity that enables them to enjoy purposeful exercise, experience personal improvement, and train cooperatively with friends in
a supportive setting and exciting atmosphere.
Observations from our youth strength-training
centers suggest most obese children and adolescents find strength training activities enjoyable
because this type of exercise is not aerobically
taxing and provides an opportunity for all
youth, regardless of body size, to experience
success and feel good about their performance.
Furthermore, since obese youth tend to use the
heaviest weight loads, they typically receive
unsolicited feedback from their peers who are
often impressed with the amount of weight
they can lift. The first step in encouraging obese
children and adolescents to exercise may be to
increase their confidence in their ability to be
physically active, which in turn may lead to an
increase in regular physical activity, a noticeable
improvement in muscle strength, and exposure
to a form of exercise that can be carried into
adulthood. Our review of the literature, which
was published in the President’s Council on Physical

Fitness and Sports Research Digest, clearly indicates
that participation in a supervised program of
strength exercise can make a world of difference
in a child’s life.
The other category of young people consists
of the sport participants. These are the kids
who play soccer; do age-group swimming; take
dance, gymnastics, and skating lessons; and
participate in other organized sport activities.
Although they get plenty of physical exercise,
they also need a general program of strength
training to ensure balanced muscle development and lower their risk for overuse injuries.
Basically, children should have good overall
strength before engaging in competitive sports
that can place excessive stress on an unconditioned musculoskeletal system. An overemphasis on sport-specific skills typically provides too
little stimulus for some major muscles and too
much stress on other major muscles; therefore,
injury, failure, and frustration are the likely

Muscles, Bones, and
Connective Tissue
The concept of fundamental fitness revolves
around developing a strong and fit musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system consists
of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones
that enable us to move and perform physical
activities. A strong musculoskeletal system prepares children for all types of physical activity
and reduces the risk of sport-related injuries.
Few things have as much of a positive effect on
a young person’s life as a well-conditioned musculoskeletal system.
You might have heard that children do not
have sufficient levels of the muscle-building
hormone testosterone to gain strength apart
from normal growth and maturation. This is
a false assumption. Although preadolescents
and females of all ages have too little natural
testosterone to develop large muscles, they can
certainly increase their muscle strength. Boys
and girls in research studies typically improved
their muscle strength by 30 to 50 percent in only
two months of training. This is possible because
strength development is associated with a variety
of neuromuscular factors and does not solely
depend on hormone levels.

Fitness Fundamentals


A strong musculoskeletal system prepares children for all types of physical
activity and reduces the risk of sportrelated injuries. Few things have as much
positive impact on a young person’s life
as a well-conditioned musculoskeletal

Another misconception concerns growth
retardation in children who train with weights.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There
has never been a report of stunted growth or
reduced bone formation related to strength training. While bone mass is strongly influenced by
genetics, progressive strength exercise makes
bones stronger and more resistant to injury.
Because most bone mass is accrued during childhood and adolescence, this is the ideal time to
enhance musculoskeletal strength and structure
through properly designed resistance-training
programs. In addition to the direct effect of
strength exercise on bone, strength training
can increase bone mass indirectly by increasing
muscle strength, which in turn can increase the
stress placed on bone. Hence, training-induced
gains in muscle strength allow for even greater
forces to be placed on bone where the strengthened muscles attach. This may be particularly
beneficial for young girls in reducing their risk
of osteoporosis later in life.

Program Assessment
When properly administered, fitness assessments
can be used for evaluating specific strengths and
weaknesses, developing personalized programs,
tracking progress, and motivating participants.
Standardized testing procedures for assessing
physical fitness have been developed, and normative data are available for most health-related
assessments. However, when evaluating youth,
it is important to avoid the pass–fail mentality
because this approach may actually discourage
unfit or overweight boys and girls from participating in physical education class or other physical
activity programs. In an attempt to create an
environment in which students enjoy the fitness
assessment and feel good about participating,

we refer to the assessment as a challenge rather
than a test. As such, every student is rewarded
for participating, and youth who try their best
but do not have the ability to perform a minimal
number of repetitions receive a + instead of a 0.
In a clinical or research setting, children typically perform a variety of physical tests that assess
muscular fitness. The most common strength
tests determine the repetition maximum (RM),
which is the maximum amount of weight that
can be lifted for a specific number of repetitions.
For example, a 1RM is the most weight that can
be lifted once but not twice on an exercise, and
a 10RM is the most weight that can be lifted for
10 but not 11 repetitions. Normally, clinicians
or researchers will determine the RM on two or
three multijoint exercises. With close supervision,
qualified instruction, adequate warm-up, and an
appropriate progression of loads, RM strength
testing can be a safe and effective method for
assessing muscular strength and evaluating training-induced gains in muscular fitness in youth.
However, RM strength testing is labor intensive
and requires a lot of time, since several trials
with adequate rest between trails are required
to accurately determine the maximal weight
that can be lifted for a predetermined number of
repetitions. An example of a testing protocol used
for determining a 1RM is outlined in the sidebar.

When properly administered, fitness
assessments can be used for evaluating specific strengths and weaknesses,
developing personalized programs, tracking progress, and motivating participants.

Other types of fitness assessments are available for physical education teachers and youth
coaches who work with large groups of children
and adolescents. These assessments are relatively
easy to administer and provide valid and reliable
information on selected measures of health and
fitness. Furthermore, since the most worthwhile
youth programs inspire children and teenagers
to develop lifelong healthy habits, these fitness
assessments provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do now that
they could not do before. The Fitnessgram is

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