There is nothing more empowering than having developed the strength to move your own furniture or to carry younger kids around the country park when their little legs get tired.
But what about introducing kids to strength training too?
There are many different perceptions of strength training for children, all influenced by what you happen to read – and not all perceptions are positive.
For quite some time, the idea of starting younger members of the community with strength training has been taboo within the health and fitness industry.
It is crucial for parents and teachers to be aware of the risks that strength training brings for kids. I would encourage seeking professional advice for kids using weights etc, but I think that for bodyweight movements, the risks are low enough.
Myths such as ‘strength training stunts growth’ have worried fitness professionals for years. But the fact of the matter is that there is little evidence to support these claims – quite the contrary, in fact. Recent research supports supervised movement practice with the aim of promoting increased bone density and beneficial mineral production (Faigenbaum and McFarland, 2016).
The risks of strength training are mostly linked to unqualified professionals neglecting to supervise kids taking part in resistance training (traditional weight training such as dumbbells) (Faigenbaum, 2011).
Keep your eye on the little rascals
Failing to supervise a child who is lifting weights is very risky and is something that I do not recommend. Accidents such as dropping weights and pinching skin have been recorded.
An analysis of injuries occurring during strength training in the 8–13 age group found that 77.2% were related to accidents (with ‘accident’ defined as dropping weights etc.) (Faigenbaum, 2011). These risk factors are the same as those found in adult strength training.
Bodyweight conditioning – such as lunges and press ups – carries a lower risk, as the participant only needs to control their own body. The worst that is likely to happen is a pulled muscle due to a lack of warming up properly (warming up is crucial).
In my view, the risks of strength training are very minimal, and generally avoidable through proper care and supervision – and the rewards of strength training are huge, especially with regards to maintain lean body mass (remember we are in an obesity epidemic).
Risk of training intensity
In my sessions, training intensity will vary and will depend on when you have developed the ability to skilfully control your movements.
I always start with how you can control your own bodyweight first before I do anything else. (That said, using your own bodyweight can be very intense too.)
This provides a baseline to practise more complex movements further along the way.
This is the same for children, but in their case it is also important to consider the diversity with which children develop across growth periods – especially in adolescence (Lloyd, 2013).
An example of this is as follows: if you have two children – a boy and a girl around the same age of 11–13 years old – you may find the girl being stronger than the boy at this age due to hormones and puberty.
Introducing repetitions and sets to strength training is something to leave until later; when the child or adolescent is ready for traditional weight training (dumbbells etc.).
It is not as important at this stage – just being aware of when they start to lose form during their movement practice is ample.
Still focus on grooving movement
The most important thing will always be the skill of movement and not so much the potential load.
I always focus on building mobility and stability first to reduce any restrictions within movement before I will add load to students. (Yes, young people do have restrictions – remember that they spend most of the day at school sitting down.)
I promote the journey to unlock your potential in movement. It is one I have personally enjoyed and am still engaging in.
Focus more on awareness of the risks when you are teaching kids to move well. Place emphasis on the skill of movement and ensure they know how valuable it is to be strong.
Faigenbaum and McFarland (2016) Resistance Training For Kids: Right From The Start. American College of Sports Medicine, Health and Fitness Journal. Sep/Oct 2016
Faigenbaum et al (2011) Injury Trends and Prevention in Youth Resistance Training. National Strength and Conditioning Journal. Vol 33, No 3, Jun 2011
Lloyd et al (2013) Position Statement on Youth Resistance Training: The 2014 International Consensus. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 20 Sep, 2013