Sometimes I'll catch folks giving my daughter and me the side-eye when we come in to work out. Don't get me wrong; our gym is super family-friendly. However, AG is the only kid that I ever see in there working out. Why is that? Well, it seems there is some controversy on whether or not kids should be strength training.
To that end, let's take a look at why you should absolutely have your kiddo in the routine of strength training.
Strength Training is not Weightlifting
A common misconception is mistaking strength training with powerlifting, and that's just not the case. Young muscles are not built to lift heavier weights. Pushing it too heavy too soon can strain tendons and cartilage areas that haven't turned to bone (growth plates). This is especially true if the proper technique has not been learned, and too much weight is piled on.
Light resistance, controlled movements, and higher repetition are best for young athletes. With the higher reps, they can learn proper technique and form for when they do start lifting with weights. Their own body weight, and resistance bands, is plenty enough to get a good training session done. I also make it a point to get her on the machines while we're in there. Not only do machines focus on specific muscle groups, they guide her on proper form in case she ever decides she wants to lift heavier down the road.
Now, as far as free weights go, feel free to have your kid use them. My daughter and I often reach for dumbbells. However, make sure to supervise your child, coach them on proper form, and make sure that the weight stays on the lighter side.
What's a Good Age to Start?
Well, AG got started at 10. However, you know your child best. As long as they can listen, follow directions, and have the concentration to focus on the correct form, then they should be able to get started! Strength training has the potential to become a valuable part of an overall fitness plan for your kids. Healthy activity and eating can start early and last a whole lifetime.
However, as with everything, check with your child's healthcare professional if you have any concerns about them starting a strength training program. Also, I've run into the problem that AG doesn't want to "get huge." Please assure your kids that strength training is meant to increase strength and endurance. Bulking is something else entirely!
What Are the Benefits?
With correct form and repetition, strength training can:
Increase muscle strength and endurance.
Increases joint and muscle resilience, decreasing sports-related injuries.
Improved performance in almost any sport.
Develops proper technique that the child can use in the future.
Help promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol.
Help maintain a healthy weight.
Improved confidence and self-esteem!
What Does a Strength Program for Kids Look Like?
Well, for starters, it doesn't have to be a pared-down version of what you do. However, if your kid is up for the challenge, then, by all means, let them give it a go at their own pace. The following is what has worked for my family:
Supervise! Don't just let your kid go it alone. This is how injuries happen, and mistakes become embedded.
Have fun! I know that working out isn't all laughing fun-time all the time. It is a sweaty exercise in discomfort (if you're doing it right). Vary up the routine, set goals they can attain, reward them for reaching a goal, and don't make them do stuff you're not willing to do!
Teach proper technique! Form is an all-important factor when training. Proper form strengthens lifts, prevents injury, and ensures the safety of fellow gym rats.
Warm-up and cool down! Get your kiddo in the routine of prepping the body for a vigorous workout with light aerobic activity or stretching. Then be sure to stretch out after a workout is done.
Low weight, high rep! Multi-movement workouts such as HIIT or CrossFit works best for us. We usually stick with "for time" workouts that have between 200-600 total movements. Plus, most of these are bodyweight only workouts. Perfect for the whole family!
Rest between workouts! Rest is important! If you've been at this working out thing, then you know being sore is a good sign. AG's first real bout with soreness came about this last weekend with a stinger of a workout. To her surprise, I gave her the next day off from the basketball court. If you don't give your body time to rest, then you don't give it time to grow.
Like any fitness routine, results aren't going to happen overnight! Keep encouraging your child as they continue down the path. Walk it with them, and celebrate when they start seeing the difference on and off the mat/court/field/dance floor/etc. Instilling a love for fitness early is the beginning of the fight against an adult life of health problems!