The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Strength Training for FitnessGramĀ®

Posted in

Monday, Apr 10, 2017

Students work hard to get into the Healthy Fitness Zone® in the muscular strength and endurance FitnessGram® tests, yet some remain in the Need Improvement Zone. Resistance (strength) training activities are effective strategies physical education teachers can implement to help students improve their musculoskeletal FitnessGram® scores, and they can be fun in the process!

First, let’s get back to the basics. Resistance training is the development of strength through the progressive use of resistance. Strength is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to generate force. There are two types of strength: absolute (maximal amount of force that can be generated during one maximal effort) and dynamic (the ability of a muscle to contract repeatedly over time). Resistance training has long been used for developing and maintaining muscle mass, which in turn improves both absolute (muscular strength) and dynamic strength (muscular endurance).

Though it is common knowledge that resistance training can adequately increase strength in adults of all ages regardless of gender, the research examining the effectiveness and safety of resistance training in children is relatively new. However, in recent years, numerous studies have demonstrated that, if performed safely, strength training can be quite effective in children (~up to the age of 11 in girls and 13 in boys) and adolescents (girls aged 12 to 18 years, boys aged 14 to 18 years). In fact, youth strength training is commonly utilized for the purpose of improving health, physical fitness and sports performance while also reducing the potential for injury (Faigenbaum, 2000). Furthermore, by utilizing resistance training, we can also improve various FitnessGram® scores (i.e. push-up, curl-up, modified pull-up, flexed arm hang, and trunk extension).

According to the Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness (2001), strength training guidelines for children and adolescents are as follows:

  • Always stress proper form. Youth strength training can be very effective if proper techniques and safety precautions are followed. Never compromise form for the purpose of increasing weight. In fact, strength training exercises should be learned initially with no load (resistance).
  • Being with low-resistance exercises. Children and adolescents should start strength training by primarily performing body weight exercises.
  • Gradual progression. When 8 to 15 repetitions can be performed correctly, it is reasonable to increase weight in small increments.
  • Include all major muscle groups. Youth strength training should focus on full-body workouts, and the exercises should be performed through the full range of motion at each joint.
  • Appropriate frequency and duration. In order to see strength gains, the appropriate frequency in children and adolescents is 2-3 times per week. The duration of a strength training workouts is ~20-30 minutes. It is important to note that in young individuals there is no additional benefit of strength training more than 4 times per week.

Now that we have shown that resistance training in children and adolescents can be both safe and effective, it is time to examine how to incorporate strength training into the classroom. The most fun and interactive way to increase strength in a group setting is via circuit training. Defined, circuit training is a conditioning program that incorporates most health-related components of fitness (muscular strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular endurance) while moving sequentially from one exercise station to another. When implemented properly, this type of training creates a balanced workout and adds variety to the PE curriculum. Circuit training involves a series of strength exercises that target different muscle groups, while incorporating bouts of aerobic activity between each strength exercise. Furthermore, it allows individuals of all ages and fitness levels to work together in the same class. An advantage of circuit training compared to other types of activities is that it maximizes health and fitness gains in a time-efficient workout. When time is limited or variety is needed in the physical education curriculum, circuit training is a great option.

To put together a circuit training routine, the following steps should be utilized:

  1. Purpose of circuit. In children and adolescents, the purpose should be to work on muscular endurance.
  2. Select muscle groups. All major muscle groups should be targeted in a youth strength training program.
  3. Select exercises. The exercises should be fun, interactive, correspond with the circuit’s goal, and of appropriate intensity. For each exercise selected, ensure you provide a modification (easier option) and amplification (more difficult option) so the exercise session is beneficial to all fitness levels.    
  4. Appropriate intensity. The resistance load should allow the participants to perform 12-15 repetitions with proper form. Avoid heavy lifting.
  5. Dynamic warm-up. Always utilize a 5-10 minute warm-up that in dynamic in nature. Avoid static stretching prior to circuit training. Some examples of appropriate dynamic warm-up exercises include: inchworms, marching in place, half squat with lateral steps, straight leg kicks, etc.
  6. Begin circuit with aerobic activity. Following the warm-up, start with 1 minute of aerobic activity such as: jogging, jump rope, speed walking, etc.
  7. Alternate with 1 minute of strength exercise. Once the first aerobic activity is complete, the students will move to their first strength training station. This rotation between aerobic and strength training activities is continued for the duration of the workout.
  8. Gradual progression. Circuits may be progressed by increasing sets, reps, weight, etc. However, in youth, progression should be very slow and gradual.
  9. Dynamic cool-down. The exercises utilized for warm-up can also be used as part of a dynamic cool-down. Once the cool-down is complete, proceed to static stretching of all major muscle groups.

In conclusion, youth strength training is an excellent way to improve health, physical fitness, FitnessGram® scores, and sports performance. A fun way to incorporate strength training into the classroom is by implementing a circuit training program that targets all major muscle groups. The circuit should ensure use of exercises that children and adolescents will enjoy.

Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness, (2001). Strength training by children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 107(7), 1470-1472. DOI: 10.1542/peds.107.6.1470.

Faigenbaum, A.D., (2000). Strength training for children and adolescents. Clinics in Sports Medicine, 19(4), 593-619. DOI: 10.1016/S0278-5919(05)70228-3.


Dr. Andjelka Pavlovic is the Associate Investigator for the divisions of Research and Youth Education at The Cooper Institute. Dr. Pavlovic has more than 10 years of experience within the health and fitness industry. Her solid foundation in science and practical application make her an asset to The Cooper Institute team.