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How Important is Strength Training for Kids?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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MUSICNUT 10/17/2020
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
PLCHAPPELL 9/30/2020
Start early Report
ERIN_POSCH 9/19/2020
thanks for sharing Report
I encourage my daughter to lift weights Report
PATRICIAAK 5/18/2020
:) Report
LISAMARIE2015 5/14/2020
😁 Report
:) Report
MCASKEY6 2/10/2020
I attended a lecture, and one of the groups speaking was doing research into brittle bone disease and why it affects women more then men. Their theory was that boys jump off things, bounce off things, and generally toughen up their bones. Whereas girls are taught to "get down", "stay off that" and "sit down" and thus their bones are softer. They were encouraging girls to jump, fall, and bounce just as much as boys. So I'm thinking, yes, kids, and especially girls, should lift weights. Report
MNABOY 11/26/2019
Thanks for sharing Report
NEPTUNE1939 11/13/2019
ty Report
EVILCECIL 11/8/2019
Good article - thanks. Report
Great Report
Great article. Thank you. Report
Good to know info. I will be sure to pass this on to my grandchildren. Report
As long as it's monitored and the weights are appropriate, I think it's good for them. Report
I believe their bodies are like ours. I believe they should do it but not lift the heavy weights. Report
I’m not sure about “training “ per se but no doubt it benefits Report
Great info! Thank you! Report
I have never liked the idea of kids lifting weights Report
Nope. Not weights. Bodyweight exercises, absolutely. Strength-training with weights? Not a chance. Maybe it's just a correlation that most of the guys I know who started lifting early never grew very tall. Or that I started lifting early and I had the same problem (I quit growing tall in 8th grade/ Starting lifting in 9th.) I vote give yourself (or your children) a chance to grow. Get a decent amount of sleep, and stick to bodyweight exercises and cardio (like running/ sports), but save the weights for when you're fully developed. (Although I think household chores, like moving 50 lb bags of cornfeed for the chickens, or whatever is fine. That isn't a weekly weight plan. That's just a momentary effort to get stuff done -- and everyone needs to pull their weight in a family. Literally and figuratively.) Report
I'm not sure working with actual weights would benefit a young child but bodyweight exercise absolutely. Just make sure their form is correct. Just like adults Report
Thank you! Report
I never even thought about letting the kids lift weights. They never really tried until they got in to high school Report
Thanks for the info. Report
this article is so surprising to me and I'm glad I read it. I actually remember when I was a kid hearing that kids should not lift weights because it can stunt their growth. or that they can develop hernias. I allow my kids to lift my light weights (5 lbs) but now this is helpful to know that I'm not hurting them. Thanks! Report
Kids at gymnastics are always doing pull-ups and push-ups... there's not much difference between doing weight bearing exercises like that and using actual weights. Report
The research findings do not surprise me given my experience as a child with pull-ups, push-ups and other weight bearing activities. Report
Traditional "strength training"? No, I don't believe young kids should be doing it. Why? Because childhood should be about getting out and having fun, exploring, playing, etc. Not following a 'strength training' program - they're supposed to learn at a young age that fitness is FUN.
Organized sports, following along with mom/dad while working out, playing tag, climbing, "helping" mom and dad in the yard by carrying buckets of dirt or water, etc are all great exercise options that include a strength component, but is not having them follow a pre-designed strength training plan.
My daughter is only 2.5, so is still too young to do most (or at least doesn't have the attention span to follow), but she DOES love climbing - she has incredible upper body strength. She's also very active in 'tot gymnastics', can easily do a dead-hang on the bars or rings, lift her body weight, balance, etc. But its FUN for them. Report
My 8 year old daughter is a competitive gymnast. She does not lift weights as part of her routine but there are definite weight bearing and resistance exercise in her conditioning workouts!!! I wish I could do half of what she does, or even 1/4. Report
I read before that children aren't supposed to strength train. But my 4 yearold has been wanting to join in my workouts for ages. I don't discourage her. I figure it's a great way to burn off some energy and repetitive movements help her focus. She's been doing my body weight workouts, squats, lunges, planks, push ups, crunches etc., and she loves it. I also figure she is learning good habits for the future. Watching mommy run and workout makes her think it's normal and what people are supposed to do. Report
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.) Report
I don't let my 9 years old lift wieghts but she does push-ups and squats Report
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. Report
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!!! Report
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!) Report
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. Report
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! Report
If it what they want to do, it is great! Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
Let's hear it for the little ones!! Report
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". Report
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. Report
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 Report
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! Report
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. Report
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! Report
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. Report