By Bentz Tozer, Jr., B.S., CPT
Strength-training is a key component to overall fitness. But what is the best age to start adding it to an exercise program? How young is too young? Does it stunt growth?
It is important to note that strength-training is vastly different from power-lifting or bodybuilding. These competitive activities are focused on lifting heavier weights or building more muscle. This can be detrimental to young people whose muscles, tendons and bones are still growing and developing. Having said that, strength-training that is done correctly, with an emphasis on safety and proper technique, can assist physical development.
Strength-training for kids, when done properly, has several benefits. It can increase children’s muscle strength and endurance and strengthen bones. It can help maintain a healthy body weight. It improves performance in nearly all sports and can help protect children from sports-related injuries. It can also improve self-esteem and confidence and foster lifelong, healthful exercise habits.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends strength-training for children ages 8 and up.
“Parents think that strength-training is dangerous for kids, that it stunts growth, but this assumption is untrue,” says Dr. Jordan D. Metzl, MD, FAAP, who practices sports medicine at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. “Strength-training is different from power-lifting, and it is safe for kids starting at 8 years old. Because of this misconception and the lack of resources available for strength-training, most kids just don’t do it. That is part of the reason we’re seeing so many injuries in youth sports – kids’ bodies aren’t prepared.”
A strength-training program for children is going to differ from an adult program. There are some basic principles to follow when your child begins strength-training. First, get approval from your child’s physician, particularly if your child has a known health issue, like asthma for example. Hire a coach or personal trainer who has experience with youth strength-training. A professional can customize a program tailored to your child’s age, skills and interests. It’s important to work with lighter weights and focus on stressing the proper technique for each exercise. Your child may benefit from starting with body-weight exercises or resistance bands and then gradually begin lifting weights as they become stronger and more familiar with exercise techniques. Also, make sure your child is always supervised by someone who knows proper strength-training techniques.
Beginning a strength-training program is a great way for kids to get involved in fitness. In addition to building muscle strength and endurance, it also improves self-esteem and will help to create a great fitness habit that will last a lifetime.
Be Well Tips
– Speak with your child’s doctor before starting any exercise program.
– Seek instruction from a professional experienced in youth strength-training.
– Start with body-weight or resistance-band exercises.
– Focus on proper technique.
– Make sure your child has adult supervision.
– Keep it fun.