We all heard the phrase: “if you do the strength exercise, you won’t grow up.” However, the truth is that children can exercise in a power style and benefit from it. This conclusion was reached by many reputable organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, ACSM, ACE, ISSA, and others. A strength training exercise for kids can be safe and useful only if they are age-appropriate, performed with impeccable equipment, and only under the supervision of a specialist.
The science behind exercises for kids
Strength training don’t stop the child’s growth
Perhaps one of the main misconceptions that relate to the compatibility of strength training with children is the opinion that strength training can delay the growth and development of a child. However, according to experts from ACSM and The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), recent studies show that in the pre-adolescent period, the pineal gland plates (growth areas) are not at risk of damage if the training is designed accordingly and the child is under the supervision of a specialist.
ACSM scientists note that physical activity with the use of strength training can actually only contribute to the growth and strengthening of the child’s bones because the most significant bone formation occurs in childhood.
The benefits of strength training in childhood
Among the advantages that a child can take when doing strength training, experts note:
- Mastering the basic level of physical fitness (improving flexibility, coordination, endurance) through the use of different training methods,
- Increase muscle strength, increase bone density, strengthen tendons and ligaments,
- Reducing the risk of injury during exercise in any other sport (football, basketball),
- Disease prevention by strengthening cardiopulmonary/cardiorespiratory status, which will serve as a good basis for reducing the risk of developing diseases in more mature age,
- Improving self-esteem and self-confidence, discipline,
- Promoting a positive attitude towards a healthy lifestyle.
Separately, the importance of strength training for girls is noted because it is women who are at the highest risk of developing the degenerative bone disease – osteoporosis. A high level of physical activity in general and strength training, in particular, have an additional advantage in the period before puberty. This is due to the fact that girls can strengthen bone mass more precisely in the premenstrual period.
At what age can I introduce my child to sports
According to AIS experts, there are no exact recommendations on when to put your child in exercise for kids in strength style. The position of the American Academy of Pediatrics indicates that, since the skills of maintaining balance and controlling posture mature to the level of an adult at about 7-8 years old, before this age, children should not engage in power style.
According to experts from ACE, children can begin to train in a power style even when they demonstrate emotional maturity and are able to clearly understand and follow directions – and this is the age of 7 or 8 years. ACSM scientists emphasize that many, but not all, seven- and eight-year-old boys and girls have the opportunity to take advantage of strength training. Push-ups, crunches, squats – all these exercises can be done in a kids workout. They will not bring problems if you perform them with the correct technique and follow the instructions of the trainer.
In general, if children can and want to play football or do gymnastics, then they are ready for some types of strength training. The main goal of children’s and teenage strength training is to increase muscle strength using a variety of safe training methods, and the child must have fun.
Children grow in strength, but not muscle volume
Interestingly, strength exercise for kids in the pre-adolescent period increases muscle strength without a significant increase in their volume. This is due to the low production of androgen hormones in childhood, which are mainly responsible for muscle growth. At the same time, the increase in strength indicators is most likely associated with increased efficiency of neuromuscular communication and improved coordination of movements.
Regular strength training contributes to more efficient transmission of nerve signals, due to which the nerves are able to draw more muscle fibers into the work. As a result, the strength in children grows significantly, and muscle volumes do not increase as much as in adults.
Basic rules for exercise for kids
How to train children
Scientists from the Academy of Pediatrics recommend starting with strength kids activities with their own weight. The initial goal is to become familiar with strength training and learn the right technique for doing the exercises. After the foundation is laid, the child can be introduced to strength training using special equipment – expanders, children’s simulators (if any), and even free weights.
- The weight of the load should be selected so that the child can perform 8-15 repetitions to the level of moderate fatigue, without achieving muscle failure.
- The number of sets per muscle group should be 1-3 per exercise.
- ACSM recommends starting with 1 set to the main muscle groups for the upper and lower parts of the body.
To increase strength and get all the benefits in relation to improving health, you need to train 2-3 days a week, while the main part of the training (without warm-up and hitch) should last 20-30 minutes or more. Scientists at the Academy of Pediatrics insistently recommend stretching exercises after training.
It is important to emphasize that the intensity of the training should increase very slowly and carefully, and before increasing the weight of the load or the level of resistance in the simulator, the child should, without significant effort, complete all 15 repetitions with the perfect technique.
According to scientists from the Australian Sports Commission, it’s much better to underestimate than overestimate the child’s power capabilities. Such an approach will not only be safer, but will also leave more room for progress.
With the onset of puberty (on average, it is 13 years for girls and 15 years for boys), the number of exercises and weights can increase at a faster pace; a child at this age can be introduced to the principles of periodization.
During training, children should be closely monitored by a competent specialist who is familiar with the characteristics of the child’s body and also has a clear understanding of the principles of a strength training exercise for kids and safety rules. The kids trainer should pay special attention to the impeccable technique of the exercises; in addition, the specialist should ensure that the child performs a thorough warm-up and hitch.
A physical examination is desirable but not necessary for healthy children (ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 9th ed.). If the child has health problems, a pre-workout assessment of the state of health must be carried out without fail (usually a treadmill or bicycle ergometer is used).
It is critically important to understand that the degree of maturation between two children of the same age can vary greatly, therefore, a standard training approach that is suitable for all children does not exist.
How exercise for kids should not be performed
The ACSM position emphasizes that when we talk about kids fitness – do not confuse these training with competitive strength sports – powerlifting and weightlifting, where the athlete’s goal is to maximize weight.
Strength training is a specialized and systematic form of physical activity, which is designed to improve muscle performance due to their regular resistance to external force.
For children who have not reached the stage of full puberty, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding training during which maximum strength is determined or practiced. Performing sets on 1-3 repetitions to maximize strength is highly discouraged until stage 5 of puberty on the Tanner scale.
In girls, this stage occurs at the age of 12.5-18 years and is characterized by the full development of the mammary glands and pubic hair growth, as in an adult woman. In boys, this stage begins at the age of 13-18 and is characterized by the development of the genitals in shape and size, as in an adult male, while hair growth occurs throughout the suprapubic region. As a rule, it is during this period that adolescents experience a maximum growth spurt.
The reason why children should not be trained using maximum weight weights are the very epiphyseal plates (growth plates). Before the onset of puberty, they are very vulnerable and prone to injury. Repeated injuries of the epiphyseal plates can be a major factor in stunting. ACSM experts also note that heavy strength training can harm not only growth plates but also the baby’s back.
In general, scientists Fleck and Kraemer agree that strength training, which does not include low repetition sets with maximum weights, has a beneficial effect on the physical development of children and adolescents.
Also, training with weights in an explosive style and at a fast pace (Crossfit, weightlifting) is not recommended, because with such an exercise for kids it is more difficult to maintain the correct technique for performing the movement; in addition, body tissues are subject to too much emotional stress during such training.
When training with children, the main emphasis should be on getting acquainted with strength training, learning the correct technique for performing exercises, safety and having fun with a child, and not on the pursuit of results.
Summary recommendations for safe and effective kids workouts
- A physiotherapist or certified trainer who knows how to work with children should be engaged next to the child;
- Ideally, classes should be tête-à-tête, especially when it comes to training a beginner;
- Reasonable and achievable goals should be set for each child based on their desires and abilities;
- During training, use a variety of equipment, including free weights, specialized children’s exercise machines, expanders, medical balls, and the child’s own body weight;
- Before the beginning of the strength training, it is necessary to devote 10 minutes to aerobic work (warm-up), and after completion of the workout – to hitch and stretch;
- Start with 6 exercises in the workout, doing 8-15 repetitions of 1 approach to the exercise. Use a weight or resistance level that the child will cope with without straining in the last repetitions;
- Be sure to insure your child during exercise;
- The main emphasis is on the ideal technique for performing the exercise, rather than raising the working weights;
- The child should rest between sets for as long as they need;
- Don’t focus on the principles of healthy eating but on the importance of calcium in a child’s diet;
- It is critical to pay particular attention to the sufficient hydration of the kid; that is, the trained one needs to drink water during exercise. Also, due to the immature thermoregulatory system, children should not exercise in conditions of high temperature and humidity.
Conclusion on exercise for kids
The strength training exercise for kids is safe and effective, provided that the specialists and children involved follow clear recommendations: the exercises are selected individually and performed with the right technique, and the intensity (load) corresponds to the maturity level of the child. No less important is the factor of getting pleasure from “kids gym”. The children will be engaged with pleasure only if they are interested.