Is it safe to allow our children to work out with weights or send them to a gym?
There is little research to suggest that weight training for young children is unsafe ? in fact, most of it confirms that weight training is one of the safest exercises they can do. A child is much more likely to be injured on the football pitch, tennis court or running track than in the gym. In fact, strength training in young children will thicken the bones by promoting increased bone mineral density, and do nothing to hinder growth in length as was previously thought.
However, it is very important that children follow nutritional guidelines, which include getting enough calcium. It is different from adult lifting because the main goal of weight training is repetition and proper form. Other goals which need to be concentrated on include muscle dexterity, refining of simple motor skills, and hand-eye coordination. But first the child needs to see a doctor for a physical and a recommendation.
Research has shown that kids who begin strength-training programmes have healthier hearts, stronger bones, and lower risk of developing diseases as adults. It can also help reduce body fat. Exercises, depending on the mental and physical maturity of the individual child, can be supervised squats, hamstring curls, sit-ups, push-ups, and ankle strengthening. It is important to cover all the major muscle groups. A 15-repetition minimum should be made a rule and emphasised during the workouts. This will alleviate any risk of damaging growth plates. A youth-fitness certified trainer should be consulted before any programme is started.
But don't start them with continuous long running. Kids are physiologically different to adults. Before puberty, children cannot keep up with adults. They have less muscle glycogen leading to a decreased ability to perform anaerobic tasks. They have a lower maximal and sub-maximal cardiac output (amount of blood pumped every minute). Their hearts are only 30 per cent the size of adults. They carry less blood; therefore less oxygen is provided to their muscles. Kids generally have low resting blood pressure. Similarly, they have a low absolute VO2 maximum (the amount of oxygen carried to the muscles per minute).
Guidelines for resistance training for an average kid using grade level as approximate markers :
6th grade and younger : Body weight exercises only, such as push-ups, sit-ups, vertical jump for height, calf raises, pull-ups.
7th & 8th grade : Add universal-type machines, no free weights. Use high repetitions with low weight, no more than three days per week with one day off between lifting days.
9th grade : Can add free weights with lifts such as bench press, partial squats, lunge. Stick to three days a week and restrict lifts to three repetitions. Never do show-off lifts of one repetition with maximum weight.