What You Need to Know About Kids & Strength Training

Sep 17, 2015

Tony Heywood

by Tony Heywood
PT, MPT | Ahwatukee Location

Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy’s Ahwatukee physical therapy clinic provides extensive services to patients of all ages. We believe in creating an individualized program for each patient and utilizing cutting edge techniques to ensure the best results possible. You can schedule a free assessment with one of our expert staff by simply going online here today. To learn more about physical therapy practices, follow our blog!
Anthony Heywood, PT, MPT, is a dedicated Ahwatukee physical therapy provider. He discusses why strength training could be beneficial for children, what parents should be aware of, and how to make a training program successful.
With the arrival of a new school year—and with it a new sports season—parents often wonder if their kids could benefit from strength training. At our clinic, I get this question from parents all the time. The short answer is, yes! However, it has to be done properly.
Exercise physiologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) both support the implementation of strength and resistance training programs for young children. Studies show that a moderate-intensity strength training program can help increase strength, decrease the risk of injury while playing sports, and increase bone density in children.
The AAP supports resistance training programs, even for prepubescent children, if they are monitored by well-trained adults that take into account the child’s maturation level. The AAP does suggest avoiding repetitive lifts, which are lifts that an individual can only complete 1-3 reps of at a maximum weight. When children have not yet reached developmental maturity, their epiphyses (also known as growth plates) are still very vulnerable to injury, and performing maximal lifts could damage them. However, neither the AAP nor exercise physiologists have set a minimum age for children to begin a resistance training program. Research has been performed on moderate weight training programs with children as young as 8 years old to no ill effect.
Growth plate injuries in children should not be a worry in weight training with proper coaching. Strength training for kids, especially in this day and age, is a good idea. Proper coaching will avoid near-maximal lifts, sets with extreme fatigue, and sets to failure (lifting until you physically cannot continue). Weight training injuries are usually a result of pushing too hard in addition to improper technique, which is why strength exercises for any age requires experienced administration. Just because your big brother works out, doesn’t make him the best coach! And a parent’s program from their trainer isn’t going to be safe or age-appropriate either. Don’t think that a child simply needs a scaled down adult program—you are asking for injuries if you think that is the case.
Strength training should not be confused with weightlifting, bodybuilding, or powerlifting. Those activities are driven by competitions in which the participant wants to lift heavier weights or build bigger muscles than other athletes. Believe it or not, there are bodybuilding competitions for boys as young as 13 years old! Some say 13 is too young to start a weight-training program, while other equally-qualified experts see no harm in it at all; but there is an important difference between moderate strength training and bodybuilding/weightlifting competitions.
My number one concern with weight training is, in fact, competition. Strength training is not about lifting the heaviest weight, and we definitely do not want children competing with each other on who can build the biggest muscles! We need to praise children for good technique. We need to award kids for the best form, or the safest practices in the gym. A child’s ability to appreciate proper technique and form should determine whether or not they are ready for strength training, and they must be mature enough to accept direction. A good rule of thumb to follow is if your child is mature enough to participate in organized sports, such as football, soccer, dance, etc., they are ready for some type of strength training. While it can be a lot of fun, it is not “goof off” time, and children have to be able to take it seriously.
Personally, I encourage strength training if done properly. Strength training offers many rewards to young athletes such as increased strength, decreased risk of injury, and increased bone density. Strength training is even a good idea for kids who simply want to look better and feel better about themselves. It can put your child on a lifetime path to better health and fitness. The key is to work with experts. This concerns your child’s health, so my advice is to do your research, ask questions, and consult with a Foothills physical therapist!

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