There has been a hotly-contested debate which has been raging in fitness annals worldwide—kids and weight training.
Some fitness experts say that kids lifting weights leads to stunted growth. On the other hand, other fitness aficionados claim strength training possesses great benefits for both children and adults. Which is which? Let us probe deeper into this situation and get the necessary facts.
The Lowdown on Children and Strength Training
The Mayo Clinic affirms that strength or resistance training is permissible for prepubescent children (younger than 13 years of age). However, a line has to be drawn between strength training and weight training.
Weight training, bodybuilding or powerlifting is largely driven by competition. People who engage in these activities lift heavier weights or build bigger muscles than other athletes. These can strain young muscles, tendons and areas of cartilage.
Light resistance and controlled movements are best for young children. Proper technique and safety must be emphasised. Primary body resistance options for kids include their own body weight and inexpensive resistance tubings.
Guidelines on Strength Training for Children
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) in the United States offered the following strength or resistance training guidelines for prepubescent children:
1. Children should be sufficiently mature that they can respond to coaching advice
2. Strength training should only form part of a young child’s exercise regimen. Sports, play, cardiovascular exercise and other movement-related activities are also important.
3. Children should avoid maximal or near maximal lifts. Resistance training programs for children should emphasise lighter weights and higher repetitions.
4. Children should be supervised at all times during their training sessions
5. Special care must be taken to avoid overuse injuries, which growing children may be predisposed to.
6. Proper form and technique must be maintained in all lifts. Since children’s muscular systems are underdeveloped, never risk sacrificing technique for weight or repetition targets.
7 Explosive lifts should be avoided. These can place a tremendous strain on vulnerable parts of the body such as the spinal and neck regions.
Risks of Strength Training for Children
The American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges that there are risks involved in children who are into strength training. Among these are muscle strains, which, not coincidentally, are also experienced by full-grown adults.
The AAP also goes on to say that most strength training injury-related experiences among children are linked to children who are poorly supervised. Children who practice poor strength training techniques are also vulnerable to injuries. Parents whose children with more serious health conditions such as hypertension, cardiomyopathy, Marfan syndrome and seizure disorders should first talk things over with their child’s paediatrician.
Benefits of Strength Training for Children
Let us now try to rattle off some of the benefits of strength training for children:
1. Improved overall health—a study published by the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine in 2000 concludes that regular participation in youth strength training exercises enhances motor skills and sports performance, strengthens the skeletal system, facilitates weight control, enhances psychosocial well-being and improves children’s cardiovascular risk profile.
2. Improved muscle-brain coordination—increased muscular strength among children is attributed to better communication between the nervous system and the brain. What this simply means is strength training improves coordination between the child’s muscles and brain. This improved coordination also improves the child’s balance.
3. Fat loss—in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, a study about thrice-a-week resistance training which involved 48 children was published. Their average age was 9.7 years. The study reveals a significant increase in lean body mass and a significant drop in body fat among the kids, whose ability to do push-ups increased by an astonishing 85%.
It seems that as far as strength training for children are concerned, the benefits outweigh the risks or dangers. Necessary precautions are in order, however.
First, parents should consult and coordinate with their child’s paediatrician (especially if the child has a history of health issues). Second, parents should also keep in close touch with their child’s personal trainer to ensure proper guidance, correct strength training techniques and a well-rounded exercise program. Lastly, the parents must check to see if the child is mature enough to respond to adult coaching to achieve maximum results.
As they always say, start them young. It’s always best to have your kids involved in fun and enjoyable physical fitness activities in order for them to take their health seriously for the rest of their lives.