How to Get Your Kids Into Strength Training

Kids doing planks in a gym
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Should kids lift weights? If so, how much and how often? This is a question many parents may be asking as their kids get into organized sports. Most kids who play sports don't need to do formal strength training, but if they are going to, there are some guidelines to help them lift safely and reduce injury or overuse.

Major health organizations, including the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) support children's participation in appropriately designed and competently supervised strength training programs. Some of the possible benefits of weightlifting for kids include increasing muscular strength and endurance, helping maintain appropriate body composition, and sports performance.

When designing strength training programs for children it's important to remember that children are not just mini-adults. They are anatomically, physiologically, and psychologically very different and have unique needs. Adult strength training guidelines and training philosophies should not be used for kids. Although everyone who lifts weights needs to understand the risks and benefits of strength training, a young child should not be expected to comprehend the intricacies of muscle action. Adults should strive to help kids enjoy lifetime fitness and teach them how to exercise safely and avoid injuries from overuse. Above all, provide a stimulating program that develops in children a more positive attitude towards strength training and a healthy lifestyle. Generally speaking, if 7- and 8-year-old children are ready for participation in organized sports or activities (e.g. little league baseball or gymnastics), then they are ready for some type of strength training.

Guidelines for Kids

  • An instructor to child ratio of at least 1 to 10 is recommended to provide adequate supervision and instruction. When children are learning exercises for the first time, closer supervision, such as a private trainer or coach may be recommended.
  • Children learn best by doing. When teaching a new exercise to a child, have the child perform the exercise under your watchful eye.
  • Ensure that the training environment is free of hazards. Be aware of the exploratory nature of children and remove or disassemble any broken equipment from the exercise room before classes start.
  • The exercise room should be well lit and adequately ventilated. Since children are more prone to heat illness than adults, encouraged them to drink water even if they are not thirsty.
  • Perform calisthenics and stretches before and after every strength training class
  • Begin with 1 set of 10 to 15 repetitions on 6 to 8 exercises that focus on the major muscle groups of the upper and lower body. Start with a relatively light weight and high reps and increase the load and decrease the reps as strength improves. Beginning with relatively light loads will allow for appropriate adjustments to be made.
  • Maximal lifting is not recommended for general conditioning purposes.
  • Two to three training sessions per week on nonconsecutive days is sufficient.
  • Increase the weight gradually as strength improves. Generally, a 2- to 5-pound increase in weight is consistent with a 5 percent to 10 percent increase in training intensity.
  • Progression can also be achieved by increasing the number of sets (up to 3) or number of exercises.
  • Multi-joint exercises such as squats may be introduced into the program based on individual needs and competencies.
  • Treat children with respect and speak with them in a language they understand. Remember that children should feel comfortable with the program and should look forward to the next workout.
  • Strength training should be one part of a total fitness program. Keep the fun in fitness and promote lifetime health.
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