Strength Training for Kids
Part 1 of 2
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 15% of 6-19 year-old kids in the United States are overweight, often due to inactivity. On the other end of the spectrum, we see young athletes searching for ways to gain a competitive edge, often falling prey to the empty promises of steroids. Enter Strength Training for Kids. Could this be the answer for getting the couch potatoes up and moving as well as offering a healthy alternative to young athletes? Many fitness experts, physicians, and parents say "yes".
What is Strength Training for Kids?
Strength training for kids is different than strength training for adults. This type of exercise program focuses on controlled movements and proper techniques using more repetitions and lighter weights. It can be done using free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, or even a child's own body weight.
For children, the goal of strength training is not to bulk up and shouldn't be confused with weightlifting, powerlifting, or bodybuilding, which experts agree are not healthy or safe for children. Instead the goals are to build strength, improve muscle coordination, and enhance long-term health, and can be used to rehabilitate injuries and prevent future injuries. An added benefit is that strength training may help some young athletes improve sports performance by increasing endurance.
Strength Training Guidelines
The key to safe and successful strength training for children is to find a program that is designed specifically for kids, is well supervised by a fitness professional with experience working with kids, and is fun.
There is no minimum age for strength training, however children should be able to understand and follow directions. Also, never start a child on a new fitness program without a complete check-up by his or her doctor.
Here are some guidelines on what a strength training program for children should include:
• Sessions should begin with 5-10 minutes of warm-up exercises such as stretching and low-impact aerobics. Likewise, each session should end with cool-down of stretching and relaxation of muscles.
• Children should not immediately begin using weights until proper form and techniques are mastered. They can start with their own body weight, elastics, or just a bar with no added weights.
• Start with 8-15 repetitions using 6-8 different exercises addressing all muscle groups. Each exercise should be performed through the full range of motion. If 10 repetitions are too much with a given weight, lower the weight.
• The number of repetitions and the number of sets should gradually increase over time to maintain training intensity. Only add more weight when your child masters proper form and can easily perform at least 10 repetitions.
• For maximum benefit, workouts should be at least 20 to 30 minutes long, 2 to 3 times per week. There is no additional benefit to strength training more than that. Make sure there is a day of rest between each workout day.