• Structuring a Resistance Training Program to Combat Childhood Obesity
    Childhood obesity is a growing concern in the United States. We need to get our kids eating better and exercising more. Here are some tips to make resistance training more fun and effective for today's youth.
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  • Childhood obesityWe have been inundated with statistics quantifying the percentage of children that are obese. Typically, these values are stratified by race, gender, socioeconomic status, place of residence, or various other demographic variables. Regardless of which statistic is most impactful to you, the take home message is that childhood obesity is a growing health concern; not a dwindling one. Children need to eat better and exercise more, we all know this. The key is getting them to adopt this lifestyle.

    In the field of strength and conditioning, terms like long-term athlete development (LTAD), training age, and functional movement are often used when talking about youth resistance training. These are important aspects of youth training, but focusing on confidence, simplicity, and fun might make more of an impact.

    Confidence is difficult to measure but usually results from achieving goals. 

    Confidence is difficult to measure but usually results from achieving goals. Strength and conditioning coaches can motivate overweight and obese children by helping them set SMART goals, or those that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Improving strength and decreasing body fat are examples of goals that are SMART. In support of these positive outcomes, McGuigan et al. found that eight weeks of resistance training was able to reduce body fat and improve measures of strength in a group of overweight and obese children aged 7 – 12 years old (3). If children are able to physically observe changes in strength and body weight, they can gain confidence that a specific mode of activity is working. Furthermore, resistance training can be a driving force to get kids active in other recreational activities. Although not measured in the aforementioned study, several parents noted that their children began an organized sport following the resistance training program (3).

    Organizing a resistance training program for overweight and obese children can be difficult and unfamiliar for some coaches. However, a simplistic approach is usually the best solution. As a general rule of thumb, resistance training intensity should include multi-joint exercises, performed 2 – 4 days per week, with an intensity of 50 – 85% 1-repetition maximum (1RM). Rest intervals of 1 – 2 min should be incorporated between sets and exercises should be performed at moderate velocity (1). It is important to note that overweight and obese children may have some barriers to certain exercises and their progressions might occur at a slower rate than some of the other children. Coaches and physical education teachers need to be aware of these trends and make the appropriate exercise modifications for each child. Refer to Table 1 for exercise progression descriptions for children.

    Training Variable 



    Intermediate and Advanced 


    Bodyweight – 50% 1RM

    50 – 70% 1RM

    60 – 85% 1RM


    1 – 2 sets x 10 – 15 reps

    1 – 2 sets x 10 – 15 reps

    2 – 6 sets x 6 – 12 reps

    Rest Intervals (mins)

    1 – 2 min

    1 min

    1 – 3 min

    Frequency (days/week)

    2 – 3

    2 – 3

    2 – 4

    Table 1. Resistance Training Progressions 
    The other component of implementing a simple resistance training program is ensuring the safety of the program. Coaches and other child/adolescent physical activity educators need to supervise these programs at all times. Attention to exercise technique is paramount to reduce the risk of injury. Sometimes the simplest technique involves little to no extra load at all; this will ensure the children learn the movement patterns before progressing to added load. 
    Sometimes the simplest technique involves little to no extra load at all; this will ensure the children learn the movement patterns before progressing to added load.In addition to improving children’s self-confidence and strength, and promoting a safe exercise environment, the mode of physical activity must also be fun (2). Furthermore, different children have different ideas of what is fun. The concept of individualization within a group is extremely important for youth strength and conditioning coaches. Overweight and obese children may not progress as quickly as some of the other children and it is not fun for them to feel that their performance is inadequate. Every child deserves the opportunity to succeed at his/her own level, thus underscoring the importance of motivation and social support (3). One child might be striving for the fortieth push-up while another might be striving for their first. Although the number might be different, the outcome of self-gratification and achievement are the same. 

  • Grabert_Derek

    About the Author:

    Derek Grabert, MS, CSCS,*D

    Derek Grabert, MS, CSCS,*D is an Education Content Coordinator for the NSCA. He holds a master's degree in nutrition and has experience as a university instructor for human nutrition, anatomy, and physiology classes. He has coached high school athletes, special populations clients, and general fitness enthusiasts on the health benefits of strength training, aerobic training, and the integration of proper nutrition.


    1. Faigenbaum, AD, Kraemer, WJ, Blimkie, CJ, Jeffreys, I, Micheli, LJ, Nitka, M, and Rowland, TW. Youth resistance training: updated position statement paper from the national strength and conditioning association. J Strength Cond Res 23(5 Suppl): S60-79, 2009.
    2. Goran, MI, Reynolds, KD, and Lindquist, CH. Role of physical activity in the prevention of obesity in children. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 23 (3 Suppl): S18-33, 1999.
    3. McGuigan, MR, Tatasciore, M, Newton, RU, and Pettigrew, S. Eight weeks of resistance training can significantly alter body composition in children who are overweight or obese. J Strength Cond Res23(1): 80-85, 2009.

  • Disclaimer: The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) encourages the exchange of diverse opinions. The ideas, comments, and materials presented herein do not necessarily reflect the NSCA’s official position on an issue. The NSCA assumes no responsibility for any statements made by authors, whether as fact, opinion, or otherwise. 
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