Strength Training for Kids
by Elizabeth Quinn, M.S.
Major health organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) , the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association(NSCA) support children's participation in appropriately designed and competently supervised strength training programs. Benefits include increasing the muscular strength of kids and improvements in a child's muscular endurance, body composition and sports performance.
When designing strength training programs for children it is important to remember that children are anatomically, physiologically, and psychologically immature. Adult strength training guidelines and training philosophies should not be used for kids. Although all participants should understand the risks and benefits of strength training, a young child should not be expected to comprehend the intricacies of muscle action.
Focus on lifetime fitness and teach kids how to exercise properly. Above all, provide a stimulating program that develops in children amore positive attitude towards strength training and a healthy lifestyle. Generally speaking, if 7 and 8 year old children are ready for participation in organized sports or activities (e.g. little league baseball or gymnastics), then they are ready for some type of strength training.
Strength Training Guidelines for Kids:
- An instructor to child ratio of at least 1 to 10 is recommended to provide adequate supervision and instruction. When children are learning exercises for the first time, closer supervision may be required.
- Children learn best by doing. When teaching a new exercise to a child, have the child perform the exercise under your watchful eye.
- Ensure that the training environment is free of hazards. Be aware of the exploratory nature of children and remove or disassemble any broken equipment from the exercise room before classes start.
- The exercise room should be well lit and adequately ventilated. Since children are more prone to heat illness than adults, encouraged them to drink water even if they are not thirsty.
- Perform calisthenics and stretches before and after every strength training class
- Begin with 1 set of 10 to 15 repetitions on 6 to 8 exercises that focus on the major muscle groups of the upper and lower body. Start with a relatively light weight and high reps and increase the load and decrease the reps as strength improves. Beginning with relatively light loads will allow for appropriate adjustments to be made.
- Maximal lifting is not recommended for general conditioning purposes.
- Two to three training sessions per week on nonconsecutive days is sufficient.
- Increase the weight gradually as strength improves. Generally a two to five pound increase in weight is consistent with a 5% to 10% increase in training intensity.
- Progression can also be achieved by increasing the number of sets ( up to 3) or number of exercises.
- Multijoint exercises such as squats may be introduced into the program based on individual needs and competencies
- Treat children with respect and speak with them in a language they understand. Remember that children should feel comfortable with the program and should look forward to the next workout.
- Strength training should be one part of a total fitness program. Keep the fun in fitness and promote lifetime health.
Elizabeth Quinn, M.S., is an exercise physiologist and health information writer and researcher. She currently manages the clinical health information development for a NW health care organization. A former national silver medalist in road and track cycling, Elizabeth continues to participate in recreational cycling, mountain biking, running, skiing and almost anything else that requires movement. To read more of her articles, please visit sportsmedicine.about.com