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Strength Training For Children

Strength training for children has been a debated topic for many years now. Should children strength train or is it bad for them? Strength training is not only good for kids, it is essential for a child’s healthy development. 

Previous arguments stated that if anyone under the age of 16 years engages in strength training, he or she will develop serious growth problems and overall developmental set-backs. This was based on the fact that the epiphyseal plates (growth plates) were still soft and when overly stressed could result in a growth defect for that bone. This is true but it is an overreaction. Only if a child is injured during strength training or if overtraining occurs that there is a problem. 

Children are growing at a rapid rate, they get their developmental strength from performing tasks that stress the body in some way and create a need for the muscle to grow stronger and larger. Without stimuli the child will not develop adequately in many areas.

What is this stimuli? The stimuli is simply play and sports. Children play on monkey bars, they run, they wrestle etc. All of this is contributing to their growth and physical development. It makes sense then that targeted and controlled strength training be undertaken by children for optimal function and development. 

There is so much recent research to suggest the benefits of strength training for children. There is also an abundance of anecdotal evidence to support this. Take Varya Akulova, the so-called strongest girl in the world, for example. Since she was a baby her father had her perform some kind of strength training. As she grew she progressed in strength. Now she is considered by many to be the strongest girl in the world. Also, doctors who have examined her say she is one of the healthiest teens they have ever seen. She trains at the extreme end of the scale with massive weights and complex Olympic weight lifting routines.

Strength is the basis for all movement. Without strength you could not perform any of the basic daily activities that everyone else does. It is loss of strength that puts people in nursing homes. Strength is also the primary functional characteristic determining physical ability in children.

For those who have not stopped reading yet allow me to clarify…

Strength training for children is not the same hardcore, training to failure, grunt and scream type of thing seen in gyms. That’s not what we’re talking about here. What we are talking about is steady, progressive, functional movements performed at moderate intensity for short duration. Keep it simple.

Strength training for children is important. Parents, coaches, teachers etc, wanting to involve kids in a strength training programme should adequately prepare for the task at hand. The following are a few simple guidelines that might help…

  • Begin with the basic callisthenics movements. These are bodyweight only strength exercises. This is essential because children, and adults for that matter, need to develop the ability to control their own body through space. This is accomplished with push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges and basic gymnastics movements. 

  • Stick to functional, not fancy. Only bodybuilders need bicep curls and wrist exercises. Children should engage in foundational, basic, compound weight training. This includes things like bench press, dumbbell squats, overhead press, seated row etc. Limit leg extension, bicep curls, tricep extensions and other isolation movements. Kids need overall functional development of major movement patterns. Anything that isolates movement patterns is detrimental.

  • Focus intently on form, not on weight or even intensity. Strength training for children should be approached with thought and proper planning and the exercises need to be performed flawlessly and with absolute control of technique. 

  • Compromising intensity just because they are a child is a major temptation. No one wants to injure a child, so most people are over cautious. This leads to a 12 year old boy doing overhead press with 1 kg dumbbells. Keep in mind that the child is still human, they need to have stressors placed on them that stimulate strength and muscle gain. So intensity needs to be a little above moderate. 

Strength training for children is not dangerous and never was. Stronger kids are healthier kids, this is proven. More efficient muscular function results in an increased ability to produce hormones, function in all activities at a higher level, increased metabolic function and a host of other things. This applies to all people. The only difference with children is that they are still growing and certain supporting muscles are still underdeveloped. This means strength training for children is safe if the trainer is competent and ensures perfect form and the right selection of exercises and training protocol.

Return to our home page from strength training for children.

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