How Important is Strength Training for Kids?

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
12/7/2012 2:00 PM   :  34 comments   :  14,334 Views

Should children and adolescents strength train? For years, many said "no", believing that it could damage a child's growth plates, thereby stunting their growth. The risks of injury seemed to outweigh any benefit that strength training could provide. But there is growing evidence that strength training is very beneficial for children and could be an important part of their exercise routine.

The latest review, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at studies from the past 60 years related to kids and strength training. "The researchers found that, almost without exception, children and adolescents benefited from weight training. They grew stronger. Older children, particularly teenagers, tended to add more strength than younger ones, as would be expected, but the difference was not enormous. Young people of any age who participated in resistance training at least twice a week for a month or more showed greater strength gains than those who worked out only once a week or for shorter periods."

Early opinion was that lifting weights wouldn't make kids stronger, but research doesn't support that theory. Children don't gain muscle mass the way adults do, but rather experience neurological changes that cause their nervous system and muscles to interact more efficiently. So even though you might not see changes on the outside, there are changes happening on the inside for kids who strength train. Experts say strength training can help prevent injury in young athletes, provided they are doing it safely.

Strength training for children shouldn't involve hours in the gym lifting weights. In fact, it doesn't have to involve weights at all. Body-weight exercises like pushups, one-leg exercises and lunges can all provide the same benefits as a traditional strength training program. Children should always be supervised to make sure they are using proper form, but can perform these exercises without as much of a safety concern as traditional weight training workouts. According to one expert involved in this research, a good age to start regular strength training is between ages 7 and 12.

What do you think? Are you surprised by these recommendations? Do (or did) your children or adolescents strength train?


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Comments

  • ANNICASYA
    34
    My son has just turned 6, and for the last couple of years he's enjoyed trying to copy my workouts. We race and dance together frequently, and in the last 6 months he's started trying to lift weights and do body weight training with me. Due to his age his success in achieving good form and pumping hard metal is limited, but he enjoys it. It never even occurred to me that exercise could possibly be bad for him (with a couple of exceptions - I wouldn't let him run in the midday sun or try and do a weighted dead-lift for instance.) - 7/4/2014   5:09:58 AM
  • 33
    I don't let my 9 years old lift wieghts but she does push-ups and squats - 12/24/2010   1:02:06 PM
  • JANI-LOU
    32
    My daughter, 10, often copies me when I do my strength training exercises. She also likes to work out on our rowing machine. We live on a farm so she does physical exercise there too. She is 5' 4" tall and 120 pounds. Yes, that's right, she's that tall and only ten years old! With all the problems in the USA with overweight children, I think it's sad that more children aren't encouraged to do more physical exercise including strength training. - 12/11/2010   11:15:46 PM
  • ETHELMERZ
    31
    Not surprised at all by these findings, we lived on a farm growing up, and brothers and I carried bales of hay, bags of feed, heavy impliments, etc. all over the place, didn't hurt us at all, no one cried about it either. Our culture already has too many namby pambys of any age, look around anytime you go shopping at what's out there!!! - 12/11/2010   9:12:35 PM
  • 30
    My 13 year old was downright chubby a year ago and started working with a personal trainer. His confidence has soared and he lost 15 pounds while growing 5 inches. He's now lean and much happier (and he can lift 150 pounds!) - 12/11/2010   9:39:59 AM
  • 29
    My brother didn't let my nephew, who is now wrestling at Oklahoma, lift weights until he was 16 because of the old research. I believe they did body weight exercises instead. Personally I think it is great that research supports kids lifting earlier because it will help them later on, if they develop good habits earlier. - 12/11/2010   5:13:03 AM
  • 28
    I don't necessarily think there's a huge benefit to a 7 year old doing strength training- but if they want to do it, let 'em! Exercise shouldn't be prohibited. It reminds me of when women were told not to strength train because they'd bulk up (or crazier reasons, like they would be sterile or grow facial hair). We all know that's total BS! - 12/10/2010   12:12:39 PM
  • 27
    If it what they want to do, it is great! - 12/10/2010   1:23:01 AM
  • 26
    My almost 14 year old granddaughter plays competitive softball for eight months out of the year. While her coaches are somewhat lax on warm-ups, Grandpa is always urging her to do just a little more. Not enough to tire her out, just enough to warm up.
    She also plays point guard on her middle-school basketball team and routinely finishes in the top five of her school in the annual President's Day Fitness Challenge. This year she was first in the "Long Distance" run.
    She appears skinny when you first look at her, but a closer inspection reveals solid muscle.
    She never seems to be hungry, until she smells food cooking, then she eats everything, vegetables fruits, salads and meat. She's an adventuresome eater, liking both Calamari and Escargot.
    I've been pushing her dad for a couple of years about some strength training, but he has always heard that early strength training closes growth plates to soon. I've sent this to him with a "just so you'd know" note. He's usually pretty quick on the uptake, and when one of her presents this Christmas will be a set of stretch bands.....? One can hope. - 12/9/2010   12:27:49 AM
  • 25
    I really got a laugh out of this as I thought about my parents who both grew up on farms and were outside "working" by the time they were six. My Dad talked about carrying hay bales to feed the cows and my mother talked about carrying buckets of water to give to the hogs, etc. and feed to the chickens. Kids today know nothing of real WORK.
    I had all five of my children in Martial Arts classes from the time they were four. They learned to work out in Karate and JUDO classes, so they got lots of weight training. Kids today sit in the house playing video games and it isn't good for them at all. No wonder they are obese. - 12/8/2010   10:39:35 PM
  • 24
    My 4&6 year olds love to ST alongside me & then my 2 year old just challenges me by jumping on me when I ST, lol. It's great fun bonding time :) w/no pressure to participate. Helps w/learning how to count w/reps & shows them how much exercising together is more entertaining. - 12/8/2010   10:10:47 PM
  • 23
    My 3 year old like to join me in 'exercising'. Just imitating some basic moves like jumping jacks and lunges. He will invent his own like froggy jumps. While I'm working up a sweat, he thinks it is great fun. - 12/8/2010   8:59:13 PM
  • CIRANDELLA
    22
    Let's hear it for the little ones!! - 12/8/2010   7:04:00 PM
  • 21
    I think it's a good idea to incorporate some type of "weight training" into children's activities. And no, it doesn't need to be spending time lifting weights at the gym. In fact I think that might not be such a good idea. I think working weight training into regular activity is the way to go. My sister, brother and I lifted our double garage door every day when we came home from school so from an early age we were all "lifting weights". - 12/8/2010   3:15:03 PM
  • ELLIEB123
    20
    My teenage daughter suffered a severe knee inury last year, and to help her recover for cross country season this year, we sent her to a trainer over the summer. He worked on building her leg muscles, as well as upper body and core strength by using resistance bands, kettlebells, and small weights. She did get stronger, but most importantly I have never seen a 16 year old girl with such a positive body image! She actually looked probably a little larger than she had previously, especially her thighs, but she loved the body she had! She stopped going to the trainer during cross country season, and has lost a lot of the muscle tone, but is looking forward to resuming her training sessions after the holidays. So yes, I think weight training is a wonderful thing for both boys and girls. - 12/8/2010   2:20:31 PM
  • 19
    ABsolutely,
    But not as a 'controlled' exercise, rather, something they want to do:
    Karate, Gymnastics, Ballet, Swimming, Ball.... these are all things that kids love, and each has a way to build muscle and endurance. Let the kids "Play" at the things they love, when it comes to exercise. But by all means, turn OFF the TV - 12/8/2010   11:16:08 AM
  • 18
    My four kids are all teenagers now, but I would not have put them in a gym with weights and asked them to strength train twice a week when they were elementary school - IMHO it's too much like WORK! However, I like the suggestions that people have written about here, like having kids do yoga, martial arts, gymnastics or dance. One of my daughters did gymnastics, one did dance, and one did kung-fu for several years. My son still does soccer. We encouraged him to run one mile a day during soccer season this year, as he is 14 now and certainly can do this on his own. We are also hoping he'll consider running track in the spring. Our kids love to swim and kayak in the summer, and we often go hiking. But I don't think I'd push young kids to strength train unless they were well-supervised, and only if they are interested. I would encourage strength training in high school, though. Good idea! - 12/8/2010   11:06:55 AM
  • 17
    My daughter has taken up wrestling and they offer strength training for them 2-3 days a week for about 30 mins. It's a great opportunity to build strength and integrate a lifestyle of health and fitness. - 12/8/2010   10:12:01 AM
  • DEANNAKOON
    16
    My 8 year old has been in gymnastics since she was 2 and has been doing competitive cheer for the last 2 years. It's amazing how incredibly strong she already is. We recently started to do a circuit based training w/her 2-3 times a week that involves jumps, lunges, squats, push-ups, jumping jacks, wall-sits, ab work, etc. b/c she is now starting to do more complex tumbling and increased strength will help her w/her tumbling, but most importantly, help prevent injuries. She is also extremely healthy from all of the exercise she does (as well as healthy eating). I think a strength training program for kids, w/proper guidance, is good for them! - 12/8/2010   9:47:55 AM
  • 15
    All of my children do karate twice per week. As part of their warm up exercises, they do pushups, squats, sit ups, etc. My 13 year old daughter can do more "male" style push ups than the guys in her PE class at school. She can also run the mile faster, etc. For her 13th birthday, she asked for boxing gloves and a mouth guard, and started to kick-boxing about once or twice a month with the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) adult group at the karate place they go to. She is not 2 belts away from her Black Belt (after 2 years in karate), and I have no doubt, she could kick anyone's "booty" if they messed with her (namely stupid boys who think it's cool to tease, take advantage of, etc., girls). Strength training has helped her significantly. She is very strong and confident. - 12/8/2010   9:26:56 AM
  • 14
    We all did strength training. In the olden days it was called "PLAY". Today, too many kids play using only their fingertips, and become simply lumps on the sofa. The best thing adults can do for children is to help them learn to enjoy moving the entire body. - 12/8/2010   9:05:27 AM
  • 13
    My daughter enjoys working out with me. She is 5 and likes to do yoga,cardio and strength training. She is actually better and some of the yoga poses than me,of course, she is a lot more limber than I am too. - 12/8/2010   8:01:06 AM
  • 12
    If the child is keen then why not? In moderation and under supervision. - 12/8/2010   5:21:34 AM
  • 11
    Not surprising at all - didn't we all inadvertently strength train in our childhoods with all the running around, climbing, and wrestling we used to do? I wouldn't encourage heavy weights or hours at the gym, but my kids occasionaly work out with me, and we take a family Tae Kwon Do class that has LOT of pushups, crunches, and body weight training. - 12/8/2010   5:09:50 AM
  • PERKINSSISTERS
    10
    Sometimes my two daughters come down to workout with me in the exercise room. They are 11 and 8. I would love to get them going on strength training. - 12/8/2010   1:10:30 AM
  • 9
    Both my two grown children were involved in two or three sports...playing year around. They were strong and fit and still workout making fitness an important part of their lifestyles. My granddaughter has stepped it up playing and excelling in three sports. At 13, she can do men's pushups, chinups and is stronger than most boys her age. She has gotten up at 4:30 in the a.m. many morning to pitch before going to school and excels as a left-handed pitcher. Her abilities including agility, fortitude and endurance equals.....her strength. Luckily, she makes all A's in school allowing for all the exercise. I'm sure these attributes and hard work will do nothing but help her....mind, body and spirit. xo MaryAnn - 12/7/2010   9:37:47 PM
  • 8
    I have been thinking about this a lot lately actually. My young son enjoys working out with me and I was wondering if it is "OK" for him to be doing what he is doing. I think a punching bag would be a great idea for a young boy. I actually thought of this for my own son. Anything to burn off that energy! - 12/7/2010   6:56:04 PM
  • 7
    Rather surprised by the findings. Since young children are still growing and have immature neurological systems they would have to be carefully monitored to avoid injury from fatigue or improper posture or form. - 12/7/2010   6:18:30 PM
  • BRANDI_SUE
    6
    Any ideas for Christmas gifts that would support a healthy lifestyle--for an 8 year old boy. I am thinking a punching bag but would love some ideas. - 12/7/2010   5:53:52 PM
  • 5
    This is good to know. My two boys ( 9 and 12 ) always want to workout with me but I was concerned that it wasn't good for them. Thanks for the information. - 12/7/2010   4:31:29 PM
  • BSWEET101
    4
    My two younger children (7 and 12) are both interested in exercising with me, and I do a lot of body-weight strength exercises; I don't have any weights at home. In fact, we have a copy of EA Active Sports 2, and both of them really enjoy doing the activities, including those with resistance bands. - 12/7/2010   4:02:39 PM
  • 3
    doesn't surprise me at all- it's good to hear though, since i've heard plenty of people discourage it. who didnt have to do push-ups in school, though? and it's good to teach kids habits early as part of their neuro development, in general, and this includes strength training according to this article :) - 12/7/2010   3:50:53 PM
  • 2
    My grandchildren love doing jumping jacks with me & push ups. I love that they enjoy working out. - 12/7/2010   3:39:53 PM
  • 1
    My 6 year old has been mimicking my strength training for weeks using 1 pound weights and a jumper ball while I use my weights and a pilates ball. Last weekend he struck out on his own and showed me 10 perfect pushups! I know he is a little young, but he loves doing exercises with me, so I just watch him carefully to make sure his "form" is correct and have advised him to stop when he is tired or can no longer keep the correct form. There is no pressure, he participates if he chooses and doesn't if he doesn't feel like it. - 12/7/2010   2:33:45 PM

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