Children

My child is lifting weights. Strength training for children – is it safe to do?

Heiko Letzing/ Physical Activity Policies and Programs Coordinat
Ministry of Public Health
30 September, 2018

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Nowadays, it is crucial for you as a working parent to have the gym bag ready in the car. It allows you to squeeze in a quick workout during lunchbreak or after office hours. In busy times, your gymnasium is the place to secure your daily dose of at least 30 minutes physical activity.

No doubt, you are fully aware about the benefits of a strength training for adults and you feel great after every training.

However, suddenly your children start asking about your exercise routine and it is just a matter of time until they want to practice with dumbbells and machines as you do it. This is just natural - You are the role model and your offspring will follow your example.

In response, most likely your children already heard the following sentence from your mouth:

 

“Be patient, you need to wait until you are at least 16 years old. Strength training is only safe for fully grown adults!”

 

Is this theory still correct?

Research shows that the benefits of strength training in children outweigh the risks, but there are still many myths about strength training in children. Let us find out what is true about strength training in children:

“… school-aged youth should participate daily in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity that is developmentally appropriate and enjoyable and involves a variety of activities. (…) research increasingly indicates that resistance training can offer unique benefits for children and adolescents when appropriately prescribed and supervised (…). The qualified acceptance of youth resistance training by medical, fitness, and sport organizations is becoming universal”

 

  1. Strength training causes injuries in children!
     

The truth is that the risks associated with strength training are not greater than those in other sports and activities children usually participate. However, it is crucial to create a safe training environment and assure qualified supervision and instruction by a fitness professional. To avoid accidents it is important to establish training guidelines. A home gym is very convenient but never allow your children to train alone. 

 

  1. Strength training will hinder the growth in children!


The truth is that there is no current evidence that a regular strength training negatively affects growth among children. Participation in bone and muscle strengthening training would likely create a positive effect on growth and will not affect a child’s genetic height potential. Provided that the training is controlled and guided by a fitness professional.

 

  1. Children do not have testosterone they will not get stronger!

 

The truth isthat women and elderly with minimum testosterone levels are achieving impressive strength gains. The gains among children, In relation to their relative strength, are comparable with those in adults. Regular exercise activates more parts of the muscle. The training first improves the activation of fibers within the muscle as well as the interaction between muscles and nerves. “Strength gains of roughly 30% to 50% can be achieved in untrained children looking at 8-12 week strengthening programs”.

 

  1. Children will suffer from bone growth plate damage caused by strength training!
     

The truth is that a growth plate fracture among children has not been found in any research study that was competently supervised and appropriately designed. Still, it is crucial that physical education teachers and fitness professionals must be aware of the inherent risk associated with strength training and should attempt to decrease this risk by following established training guidelines.

 

  1. Strength training is only for young athletes!
     

The truth is that regular participation in a strength-training program can increase the muscle strength and endurance of young athletes. Even more important, it can protect muscles and joints from sports-related injuries.

However, children of all abilities can benefit from a strength training.

Strength training can:

 

  • Improve the performance of your child in nearly any sport.

 

  • Offer a chance to your child to learn proper exercise techniques and to experience rewarding effects of physical activity.

 

  • Improve the bone mineral density and decrease the risk of developing osteoporosis.

 

  • Help in maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Motivate overweight children to engage in physical activity.

Considering their higher body weight, strength exercises will give them a chance to outperform their slimmer peers and receive positive feedback.

 

  • Help in maintaining a healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Improve your child's confidence and self-esteem
  • Provide a positive attitude towards physical activity

 

To sum it up:

 

Strength training is suitable for children, “However, strength training is a specialized method of conditioning that requires qualified supervision, appropriate overload, gradual progression, and adequate recovery between exercise sessions”.

 

When working with children, researchers strongly recommend a workout with free dumbbells and machines. The concern, that the impact of training equipment is too high has been refuted. In particular guided weight machines allow it to dose the exercises individually. Exercises with weight cuffs, dumbbells and resistance bands can be less demanding for untrained children than certain exercises with their own body weight. In many cases badly trained children, cannot properly perform classic push-ups or pull-ups. A lack of strength and/or coordination makes it impossible to conduct the exercise correctly. In contrast to this, strength machines, for instance a guided chest press or a pulldown machine, can be carried out with significantly lower loads to allow a proper technique.

 

Motivate your children from the age of 5 to participate in age appropriate strength training. Once your child is mature enough to follow directions and practice a proper technique, dumbbells and adjustable machines can be introduced. Keep in mind that children “…should not be pushed to overexert. Children generally know their physical limitations and are prone to get injured more readily when subjected to external pressure”.

 

The focus lies on lower weights and higher repetitions (15-20 repetitions per set; 2-3 sets per exercise).

Most important - the perfect technique.

 

Remind yourself and your child that strength training in children is recommended to increase muscle strength and endurance - Bodybuilding and Powerlifting, in other words bulking up or handling excessive weights, requires a different approach and is most safely done after adolescence. Furthermore, a sport check up with your family doctor is recommendable.

 

Keep it fun and your children will develop a lifelong habit of regular exercise to stay strong and healthy.

 

      

 

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