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As we see more and more parents on social media and online push their kids to excel physically, both in fitness and in athletics, we also see parents going to extremes, giving their kids exercise regimens that are more tailored to adults. Of course, these instances face a bit of backlash, with other parents arguing that such behavior can only be harmful to children. All the back and forth can, in turn, leave some parents wondering if any strength training at all is suitable for their children.
The long and short of it? Yes, strength training for children is okay and even healthy and beneficial. No, children should not be put on a weight-training regimen, where the goal is simply to build muscle mass and turn the child into the next generation’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. The goal for your child should always be to increase their health and fitness, not to reach some sort of bodybuilding goal.
Now, does this mean that your child of a more advanced age shouldn’t be lifting weights with the goal of improving their athletic performance? Of course not! Many high school sports require that teenagers build the necessary strength to succeed.
So, what can you keep in mind when it comes to children and strength training?
1. Proper techniques are key.
Under no circumstances should a child be left to their own devices with a bunch of free weights. Just as proper training and techniques are key for adults in order to avoid injury, so it is for children. The last thing any parent wants is for their child to be injured, so take the time to make sure they’re properly trained in how to use any equipment, and that they’re appropriately supervised, before they begin any strength training.
2. Strength training doesn’t have to mean weights.
While when you initially say “strength training,” most listeners’ minds immediately go to free weights and barbells, keep in mind that strength training covers a variety of exercise. If you don’t like the idea of your child pumping some iron, they don’t have to! And chances are, they’re already doing some other type of strength training anyway, especially if they’re involved in sports.
Strength training can include simple, everyday fitness activities like push-ups and pull-ups, to working with resistance bands or doing wall squats.
3. The benefits are more varied than you think.
Studies have shown that when children ages 7 and older participate in some sort of strength training — including push-ups, sit-ups, handstands, etc., rather than lifting weights — they benefit in so many other ways beyond building muscle mass (because, believe it or not, kids usually can’t bulk up anyway until puberty). These other benefits include improved mental health, bone density and cardiovascular fitness.
After age 13 is when the benefits can stretch into sport-specific benefits, and often when children switch from some of your more basic strength training techniques, over to activities including weight training.
The bottom line
When it comes to strength training, the bottom line is, it’s important to keep your child’s age in mind, give them varied strength training exercises and always ensure proper technique and supervision in order to prevent injuries.
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