As parents, teachers, coaches and really anyone who works with children, most of us agree that kids need to be active. It’s typically recommended that kids be physically active for at least an hour every day. Between school, homework, music lessons and the like, finding time to play outside on a daily basis can be difficult.
Many kids are also involved in sports, which rarely seems to be an issue of how early or how hard kids play. But what about kids who may not be involved in sports but could still benefit from structured physical activity in their lives? Is getting them involved in working out at an early age beneficial, or detrimental to them physically or mentally? Most professionals now agree that when done correctly, strength training for kids is safe and beneficial.
When kids workout focusing on strength training (not muscle building) most professionals, like Dr. Oz, believe that the positives highly outweigh the negatives. Teaching your kids how to properly exercise can improve their performance in sports, help them keep their weight at a healthy level, and teach them commitment and discipline. Often learning how to stay in shape as a child or teen carries over into adulthood, which is extremely important, especially when you hit your mid to late-twenties and your metabolism starts to slow down. In addition, organized sports (also a great way to strength train) teach kids how to work as a team, learn sportsmanship and commitment.
Where to Start
A recent article in Men’s Health is a great place to start when teaching your kids the beginnings of working out. Michael Meija, C.S.C.S., Men’s Health fitness adviser and owner of B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning, talks about which exercises are best for kids and teens, how to teach them to first use their body weight only as a means to train, and which things to stay away from at the gym. Meija suggests focusing on perfect form with your kids, and keeping any weight used very low. More repetitions and less weight will help your kids develop proper form, and keep the stress low on their developing bones and muscles.
When to Start
For most kids, age 8 is about the earliest to start with strength training, but age is not necessarily the basis for when. Both Meija and an article on Livestrong.com’s website agrees that in order for kids to train properly, they need to have excellent to perfect form (Read More). Surprisingly, damage to kids’ bones rarely happens, but when it does it is due to bad form, heavy weights or exercises that are not focused on natural motions. The simplest way to know if your child is ready to strength train is if he or she can listen to directions, complete physical tasks in a proper manner and follow safety rules.
What to Focus On
Meija brings some common sense and simple ideas to working out with kids. If you’re a parent who follows your own training program, you can incorporate many of the same exercises you do with your kids. Focus on movements that mimic the body’s natural flow. Stay away from most machines, as they usually do not create movements that are natural. No weights are the best way to start. Keep kids focused on perfecting the motions, and using their own body weight for resistance at first.
Last, but certainly not least, regardless of your child’s physical ability to perform any strength training or sports based exercises, you want to make sure they are mentally ready. It is important as a child to be involved in physical activity that is fun! Spending quality time with your child while working out, or encouraging them to become involved in sports can create a healthy habit that can persist into their adult years. In contrast, pushing them when they are not ready, or making them exercise when they dread it, can also start a negative problem that will also persist. So, keep it fun and light, and make the time spent enjoyable, for both you and your kids!