As a personal trainer, two questions that most parents ask after seeing results from their own training are: “Can my child work out?” and “Is it safe?”
The reluctance of fitness professionals to suggest weight training for pre-adolescent children is due largely to a concern for injury. This concern has grown from several reports that demonstrate an increased risk of injury in children lifting weights, with the primary injuries occurring to the epiphyseal growth plates. However, many of these injuries occur in children lifting maximal or near maximal weights, and competing in weight-lifting programs. Several recent studies conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all propose that strength training (which can include non-weight bearing exercise) can be safely performed by pre-adolescents. In fact, research suggests that weight training may help reduce the risk of injury and improve performance in other sports and recreational activities. Recent research has also shown that children can significantly increase muscular strength and endurance with weight training, although their ability to increase muscle size through hypertrophy is somewhat limited.
Hudson Ellis with Patrick Brothers and Case Ellis at Simply Fit.
Getting with the Program
As with other sporting activities, children should be required to undergo a physical examination prior to beginning a weight-training program. Once medical
clearance has been given, program goals should be established. Some pre-adolescents set unrealistic goals such as gaining weight through increased muscle mass. However, the following general goals can likely be accomplished through a properly designed weight-training program:
1) improve muscular strength, endurance and coordination; 2) improve the ability to jump, run or throw; 3) reduce the risk of sports injuries. Once the goals are established, a program can be designed to meet these goals.
When starting with the pre-adolescent child, proper technique should be the primary focus. No external weight should be added until the individual has mastered the proper form for each exercise. In fact, many strengthening exercises can be performed without the use of an external load. Exercises such as push-ups, abdominal crunches and heel raises can be done with the individual’s body weight as the sole resistance. In this case, the weight of the individual is somewhat proportional to the present level of strength and therefore less likely to cause injury.
Hudson Ellis with Mason Katz, Nathan Fury, Cory Guidry and Chad Guidry at Simply Fit.
To increase the available number of exercises, and to add variety, exercise tubing can be used. Children, who have developed a moderate amount of strength with exercise tubing, or by using their body weight for resistance, may be ready to advance to a more traditional weight-training program. Initially, it is still appropriate to use minimal resistance until proper technique is mastered. As individuals are able to successfully perform each exercise, they can gradually increase the resistance.
If you feel your child is ready to move on to more traditional exercises found in a gym—for example, weight-training machines—be careful. The majority of the machines found in most athletic clubs are designed specifically for adults and if not properly adjusted could cause an injury. If you yourself are not sure how to use a particular machine properly, get assistance from a trainer.
Bottom line is that weight training for kids can be safe and enjoyable. The rewards can be so gratifying for youngsters and help them in sports and recreational activities.
Billy Katz and Hudson Ellis are the co-owners of Simply Fit gyms, located throughout the New Orleans area. Please email your health and fitness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.