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.

Excerpt adapted from Youth Strength Training (Human Kinetics, 2009) by Avery Faigenbaum and Wayne Westcott. For more information on Youth Strength Training or other fitness books, visit www.HumanKinetics.com or call 800.747.4457.