Recently, the world’s attention was focused on the Olympics and the athletes competing. While world records were shattered and medals won, one startling thing stood out: the young ages of many of the competitors. Whether it was sweet sixteen Laurie Hernandez on the balance beam or nineteen year old Simone Biles, spectators around the world were surprised at the athletic levels of these young breakout stars. During countless commentaries, we learned most Olympians began their trainings when they were toddlers or elementary age.
Surprisingly, this isn’t a unique phenomena. Today, many parents are under similar pressures to start training our sons and daughters at similar young ages to help set them up for success on the field or in the gym. As sports programs become increasingly competitive, we are under increasing pressure to develop our child’s skills early, allowing them to focus their talents for high school, college,or professional endeavors. Ultimately, we want the best for our kids and often find ourselves questioning if we should be allowing young children to lift weights.
The Dangers of Weight Training Too Early
In the 1980’s the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) strongly recommended that children, mainly pre-adolescents, should avoid weight lifting. High rates of injuries and concerns about safety fueled that first decision, but many other experts have also voiced concern about kids bodybuilding. Building muscle mass before a child’s body is fully grown, strains undeveloped tendons and muscles with additional worries regarding a child’s growth plates, which can easily be harmed during improper weight lifting.
Now factor in our child’s immature abilities. Most weightlifting injuries in children occur, because they lack necessary techniques, mobility, or developed base strengths to safely lift heavy weights or build muscle mass. Those reasons are often why most athletic programs don’t encourage children to begin lifting weights until they are 13 or 14 years old and have undergone puberty.
The Benefits of Strength Training With Children
However, fitness experts do believe that strength training can be beneficial for our youngsters. These exercises drastically differ from weight training, because they frequently use a child’s own body weight or resistance bands. The main goal of strength training is to use light resistance and intentional movements to develop a child’s power and their cores, unlike weight building that focuses solely on pumping muscles for show.
If strength training is properly executed, it can help children:
- Strengthen bones
- Maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels
- Achieve ideal body weights
- Improve confidence
- Increase endurance
- Protect joints and muscles from common sports related mishaps
- Improve athletic performance
3 Healthy Alternatives To Weight Training For Kids
Exercise and strength training can help children gain awareness of their bodies, allowing them opportunities to master their movements and balance through sports and play. Parents and coaches should avoid emphasizing building muscle mass and focus on the importance of increasing strength, stamina, and endurance. Children as young as 7 or 8, can begin to benefit from strength training when it is included in their fitness regime.
Consider the following activities to help kids develop strength without lifting weights:
#1. Resistance Training
While this form of exercise resembles weight lifting, the key difference is it uses low weight and high reps. Trade in those heavy dumbbells for resistance bands or light weight bars. Instead of doing “curls for the girls”, focus on developing proper technique and strength by engaging a wide variety of muscles across the entire body. Ideally, a child should be able to easily lift a weight or object 8 or more times. If they are straining, it is too heavy.
#2. Hula Hooping
Yes, you read that correctly. The whole family can have fun hula hooping to build endurance and strengthen our cores. The beauty of this exercise is that it is versatile, enjoyable, and works a variety of muscles without the stress of performing or winning. As a child develops their technique, you can adapt the routines to include legs, arms, and neck muscles. Depending on a child’s age, you can also utilize weighted hula hoops to add more resistance to a workout.
Yoga is a great opportunity for children to develop athletically and personally with stretching and breathing exercises. A child uses their own bodies for resistance and over time practitioners excel at mastering their bodies. As an added bonus, you can teach children how to handle stress and reflect on their lives.
What are your thoughts about children weight training?