According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association
(NSCA), strength training can be a fun way for kids to build
, joints, and bones. With a properly designed and supervised
program, they can improve endurance, total fitness level, and
sports performance. Strength training can even help
and speed up recovery.
About Strength Training
Strength training is the practice of using free weights, weight
machines, and rubber resistance bands to build muscles. With
resistance the muscles have to work extra hard to move. When the
muscles work extra hard, they grow stronger and more efficient.
Strength training can also help fortify the ligaments and
tendons that support the muscles and bones and improve bone
density, which is the amount of calcium and minerals in the bone.
And the benefits may go beyond physical health. Young athletes may
feel better about themselves as they get stronger.
The goal of strength training is not to bulk up. It should not
be confused with weight lifting, bodybuilding, and powerlifting,
which are not recommended for kids and teens. In these sports,
people train with very heavy weights and participate in modeling
and lifting competitions. Kids and teens who do those sports can
risk injuring their growing bones, muscles, and joints.
Generally, if your child is ready to participate in organized
sports or activities such as baseball, soccer, or gymnastics, it is
usually safe to start strength training.
A child's strength-training program shouldn't just be a
scaled-down version of an adult's weight training regimen. A
trainer who has experience in working with kids should design a
program for your child and show your child the proper techniques,
safety precautions, and how to properly use the equipment.
Kids as young 6 years old can usually do strength-training
activities (such as pushups and sit-ups) as long as they can
perform the exercises safely and follow instructions. These
exercises can help kids build a sense of balance, control, and
awareness of their bodies.
Typically, it's a good idea for younger kids to stay away
from heavier weights. Instead, they should lift small amounts of
weight with a high number of repetitions. In general as kids get
older and stronger, they can gradually increase the amount of
resistance they use. A trained professional can help your child
determine what the appropriate weight may be.
As with any sport, it's wise to have your child visit a
doctor before beginning a strength-training regimen. If the doctor
signs off on the idea, you'll need to make sure that your child
will be properly supervised, using safe equipment, and following an
Muscle strains are the most common form of injury, and the lower
back is the most commonly injured area. But these injuries usually
happen because the child has not used the proper lifting technique
or is trying to lift too much weight.
As long as your child is using the proper techniques and lifting
an appropriate amount of weight, strength training shouldn't
have any effect on growth plates, the layer of cartilage near the
end of the bone where most of the bone growth occurs.
Strength training should not involve the use of anabolic
steroids. Some young and professional athletes have abused these
drugs to build muscles and improve athletic performance and
appearance. But these drugs, some of which are illegal, can pose
severe risks to physical and psychological health.
A Healthy Routine
In general, kids and teens should tone their muscles using a low
amount of weight and a high number of repetitions, instead of
trying to lift a heavy load one or two times.
The amount of weight will depend on a child's current size
and strength level. But in general, kids should be able to lift a
weight with proper technique at least 10 to 12 times. If they
can't lift the weight at least 10 times, it's likely that
the weight is too heavy.
Kids shouldn't even consider concentrating on adding muscle
bulk until after they have passed through puberty. Even then,
it's important to focus on technique so that they can
strengthen their muscles safely.
The focus of each training session should be on proper form and
technique, and if free weights are used, there should be an adult
around to spot your child.
The NSCA offers these guidelines for strength-training
- An instructor-to-child ratio of at least 1 to 10 is
- The instructor should have experience with kids and strength
- When teaching a new exercise, the trainer should have kids
perform the exercise under his or her supervision in a
hazard-free, well-lit, and adequately ventilated
- Calisthenics and stretching exercises should be performed
before and after strength training.
- Kids should begin with one set of 10 to 15 repetitions of six
to eight exercises that focus on the major muscle groups of the
upper and lower body.
- Kids should start with a relatively light weight and a high
number of repetitions and increase the weight as strength
improves. Progression can also be achieved by increasing the
number of sets (up to three) or types of exercises.
- Two to three training sessions per week on nonconsecutive
days is sufficient.
It's important to remember that strength training should be
one part of a total fitness program. It can play a vital role in
keeping your child healthy and fit, along with aerobic exercise
such as biking and running, which keeps the heart and lungs in
Joseph A. Congeni, MD
Date reviewed: November 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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