Of course not! Doesn't it stunt their growth? Isn't it bad for growth plates! Won’t they get hurt? These are some of the concerns that may arise when discussing resistance training for kids... Should kids be lifting weights? If so what’s the best way to do this?
Why I care about this topic
Along with being a personal trainer/strength and conditioning coach my wife and I have five young children. At some point I figured my kids would one day be asking me to learn how to lift. Eight years ago I would not have had any idea of how to train, coach, cheerlead a young child. Since we started our family I’ve always on some level been preparing and gathering information on how to best integrate training for a young one.
Myths are hard to shake!
Contrary to some societal myths about kids training, the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2008 released their position on resistance training for kids, saying that resistance training should in fact be a part of youth preparatory training.
In general kids are getting less and less exercise
Unfortunately, regardless of the intervention, the youth population is increasingly becoming more undertrained… ‘out of shape’. The modest daily physical activity guidelines outlined by the WHO are not often met. Elementary school ages are only at about 50% adherence while just 40% of secondary schools kids meet the criteria. Damn cell phones right!
Consequences of kids being out of shape
This phenomenon has a few more layers of consequences than just being ‘out of shape’. This age is critical for the brain in conjunction with the neuromuscular system to learn skills of physical play and movement expression. Their bodies need to be challenged to solve movement and coordination problems… in other words, kids just need to PLAY more! Missing this opportunely early on in life may lead to worse health outcomes. Kids who participate in sports, resistance training and free play seem to have a greater chance of maintaining that participation later on in life.
Positive outcomes for kids when resistance training
-builds bone strength
-improves tendon compliance (stretch better)
-increases neuromuscular strength and coordination
How does this transfer for young athletes?
A large body of research suggests that developing multiple skills from exposure to different movements seems to be more beneficial if introduced early in life rather than waiting until adulthood. Having a wide variety of proprioceptive awareness from resistance training while playing multiple sports seems to play a much larger role of the athletic development and improved performance in one specific sport… getting good at many things gets you better at the thing that’s most important to the athlete.
What the heck do you teach a kid?
The approach I take is extremely simplistic. If a child is mature enough to handle the process they are old enough to learn how to train. No ‘physical’ landmarks are required to be met. From the ages 8-13 most of the time spent is teaching the fundamentals. They need to learn how to train before they train to train. This means, utilizing very little resistance while introducing a wide variety of movement patterns. Once I am absolutely sure they're ready, only then will we progress things towards the training to train stage.
Coaching kids in the gym or in sports is extremely rewarding and a big responsibility. I personally do both and it’s been one of the most positive experiences of my life. However, it can be very challenging, trying to balance the physiological and psychological progressions for a young child is tricky at times. Knowing what verbal cues, face expressions, body language, silly jokes to use etc. This did not come naturally to me and I continue to try and improve on these unique skills everyday.
Seems safe to say that resistance training for any age group will lead to positive health outcomes assuming the proper dosage is prescribed. And contrary to past beliefs, exposure to resistance training at a young age seems to be much more necessary and safe than once thought. This is the case for young athletes as well and non-athletes. Kids who are active and a healthy weight are more likely to prioritize that during adulthood. As the trend rapidly grows towards electronic devices and less activity, the need for educating the public of the harmful consequences of inactivity is critical… movement is medicine.