Is it Safe for Children to Strength Train?
Strength training for kids? You bet! Done properly, strength training offers many benefits and can be both safe and effective for most youth when age-appropriate training guidelines are followed. In fact, strength training can put your child on a lifetime path to better health and fitness. Don’t confuse strength training with weightlifting, bodybuilding or power lifting. These activities are largely driven by competition, with participants vying to lift heavier weights or build bigger muscles than those of other athletes. This can put too much strain on young muscles, tendons and areas of cartilage that haven’t yet turned to bone (growth plates), especially when proper technique is sacrificed in favor of lifting larger amounts of weight.
For decades youth strength training was widely discouraged, as many people viewed this type of training as dangerous, believing that it would stunt children’s growth by causing damage to their bone growth plates. From that misconception, resistance training was presumed to be a high risk activity, in which injuries were quite prevalent.
For kids, light resistance and controlled movements are best with a special emphasis on proper technique and safety. Your child can do many strength training exercises with his or her own body weight or inexpensive resistance tubing. Free weights and machine weights are other options.
Benefits: When done properly and under the guidance of a trained professional, strength training can provide your kids with the following benefits:
- Increase your child’s muscle strength and endurance.
- Help protect your child’s muscles and joints from sports-related injuries.
- Improve your child’s performance in nearly any sport, from dancing to football.
- Strengthen your child’s bones
- Help promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Help your child maintain a healthy weight
- Improve your child’s confidence and self-esteem
When can a child begin strength training? During childhood, kids improve their body awareness, control and balance through active play. As early as age 10, however, strength training can become a valuable part of an overall fitness plan as long as the child is mature enough to follow directions and practice proper technique and form. If your child expresses an interest in strength training, remind him or her that strength training is meant to increase muscle strength and endurance. You might also check with your child’s doctor for the OK to begin a strength training program, especially if your child has a suspected health problem such as a heart condition.
A child’s strength training program isn’t necessarily a scaled-down version of what an adult would do. Keep these general principles in mind:
- Seek instruction. Start with a coach or personal trainer who has some knowledge of youth fitness. The coach or trainer can create a safe, effective strength training program based on your child’s age, size, skills and sports interests.
- Warm up and cool down. Encourage your child to begin each strength training session with five to ten minutes of light aerobic activity, such as walking, jogging in place or jumping rope. This warms the muscles and prepares them for more vigorous activity. Gentle stretching after each session is a good idea, too.
- Keep it light. Kids can safely lift adult-size weights, as long as the weight is light enough. In most cases, one set of 12 to 15 repetitions is all it takes. The resistance doesn’t have to come from weights, either. Resistance tubing and body-weight exercises, such as push-ups, are other effective options.
- Stress proper technique. Rather than focusing on the amount of weight your child lifts, stress proper form and technique during each exercise. Your child can gradually increase the resistance or number of repetitions as he or she gets older.
- Adult supervision is an important part of youth strength training. Don’t let your child go at it alone.
- Rest between workouts. Make sure your child rests at least one full day between exercising each specific muscle group. Two or three strength training sessions a week are plenty.
- Keep it fun. Help your child vary the routine to prevent boredom.
Your child will notice a difference in muscle strength and endurance which might fuel a fitness habit that lasts a lifetime.