When most of us think about strength training, we think of oversized bodybuilders with rippling muscles, like Arnold Schwarzenegger (during the 1970s, not as the governor of California). Or the guy from the Planet Fitness commercial that lifts things up and puts them down.
Done in moderation, however, strength training can benefit people of all ages, including children and adolescents, says Mark Salandra, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the founder of StrengthCondition.com (a Physiquality partner program).
Mark lists a number of benefits for strength training as children grow:
- Higher energy levels
- Increased bone density
- A stronger immune system
- Reduced body fat
- Better physical performance
- Better sleep patterns
And while in the past, doctors and parents were reluctant to encourage younger athletes to weight train, multiple studies in such medical journals as Collegium Antropologicum, Sports Health and Pediatrics have proven the above benefits mentioned by Mark.
Even more, these studies have shown that there is no evidence that strength training is any more dangerous than other physical activities, or that it would stunt a child’s growth. On the contrary, new research shows that strength training makes bones stronger, enhancing bone growth.
The Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, one of the best orthopedic hospitals in the U.S., has posted some guidelines for parents who want to know more about strength training for their kids.
Any training sessions should be led by a qualified individual.
This includes Physiquality physical therapists and certified strength and conditioning specialists like Mark. If your child’s coach is starting strength training with your child, make sure that she is properly qualified to do so.
Consider how many kids are in the program.
Younger kids may benefit from being with their peers, but the HSS experts caution against too many at the same session. They advocate one-on-one sessions, and no more than three to four children to a trainer, especially in sessions for beginners.
Set reasonable goals for each child.
What does your child want to achieve, and (perhaps more importantly), what can he achieve, based on his age, size and ability? Programs should be varied with free weights, size-appropriate machines, plyometrics, and other equipment like medicine balls and elastic bands.
Proper technique is more important than increasing weight.
Difficulty can be increased by adding more repetitions or sets rather than more weight, but make sure the child’s form is correct before doing so. Remember that the lessons they learn now will stick with them as they age and perhaps become more active, so create good habits now.
As with any activity, children shouldn’t be strength training more than two or three times per week; overuse is a key component in sports injuries. “It is only after your workout, when you are resting and replenishing your body with protein and other nutrients, when the body heals and gets stronger. This is why I live by the motto, ‘Train hard, but rest harder,’” says Mark.
If your child has never worked with weights or strength training before, visit the pediatrician to make sure there are no concerns, particularly if he has a known or suspected health problem like high blood pressure or a seizure disorder, notes Mark. Once the program begins, the young athlete should be continuously monitored for technique and health. In all cases, he adds, the safety of the child should be the number one priority of a coach when working with a child or adolescent in a strength and conditioning program.
Done properly, strength training offers many benefits to young athletes. Strength training is even a good idea for kids who simply want to look and feel better. In fact, strength training might put your child on a lifetime path to better health and fitness.
Your local Physiquality physical therapist is an excellent resource for athletic training and injury prevention. Use our therapist finder below to locate the professional nearest you.
Thank you to our contributors:
Barbieri, Davide and Luciana Zaccagni. Strength training for children and adolescents: benefits and risks. Collegium Antropologicum, May 2013.
Why rest is an important part of your exercise regime. Physiquality, February 15, 2013.
Dahab, Katherine Stabenow and Teri Metcalf McCambridge. Strength training in children and adolescents: Raising the bar for young athletes? Sports Health, May 2009.
Williams, Heather. Strength and conditioning for kids: How and why? Hospital for Special Surgery, September 29, 2009.
Strength training by children and adolescents. Pediatrics, April 2008.