For the longest time, it was thought that lifting weights was bad for kids. That it would stunt their growth, damage their joints, and impair their motor development. Hell, even suggesting it out loud would result in looks of disgust from any parent within earshot.
However, over the last few years, we have realized that every single one of these claims has absolutely zero research to back them up.
In fact, the evidence actually suggests that kids’ strength training may offer a myriad of benefits for health, growth, and development. It is essentially suggesting the opposite of what most people once thought.
What is resistance training?
Resistance training essentially refers to the act of lifting weights.
It is arguably one of the oldest types of formalized exercise on the planet. Weightlifting has been used for thousands of years to improve strength and power and enhance physical performance.
During resistance training, you perform specific movements under the addition of external load. The external load can come on the form of free weights, cables, or machines. During this time, the muscles undergo two main types of contractions:
- Eccentric contraction: where the muscles are lengthening under load (think of sinking into the bottom of a squat, or descending during a push up).
- Concentric contraction: where the muscles are contracting and shortening to produce movement (think about exploding up from the bottom of a squat, or pushing yourself up from the ground during a push up).
Good resistance training practices should place a priority on both concentric and eccentric muscle contractions.
Why is resistance training important for children?
Over the last decade, resistance training has seen a surge in popularity across the population due to a vast amount of research showing positive health effects – which are so profound that it is now also considered a key part of the World Health Organisations physical activity guidelines.
Interestingly, over time, many of these positive effects have been replicated in both children and adolescents as well.
Related Article: Kids Need To Move To Improve
What are the short-term benefits of resistance training?
When many people think of resistance training, their minds tend to jump to the positive effects it can have over the body over a large amount of time. However, there are also a few key benefits that come from resistance training in the short term as well.
- Improvement in mood: a single bout of resistance training has been shown to improve mood, boost energy levels, and stave off stress and any associated feelings of anxiety (Mandolesi, 2018).
- Enhanced learning: similarly, a single bout of resistance-based activity appears to improve cognitive function and learning capabilities immediately after its performance (Glapa, 2018).
- Better Sleep: finally, there is also some evidence to suggest that resistance training during the day can contribute to better quality sleep throughout the night, which has obvious implications for health and function (Dolezal, 2017).
As you can see, resistance training appears to offer several powerful short-term effects that are going to be of serious to your child – and for you as well!
What are the long-term benefits of resistance training?
Now, this is where things start to get quite impressive.
You see, there are several powerful long-term effects that resistance training can have on your child’s body and mind. These include:
- Increased neural function: resistance training during childhood appears to enhance the neural development that is already underway. This can lead to more effective muscle fiber recruitment and enhanced physical performance across the lifespan (Myers, 2017).
- Reduced risk of injury: child athletes who participate in resistance training see a markedly reduced risk of musculoskeletal injuries during sport. This also includes bone fractures and breaks, as resistance training can improve bone density (Legerlotz, 2016).
- A heightened sense of self-esteem: long term resistance training in children has been shown to cause substantial boosts in self-esteem and self-confidence, which can lead to lasting improvements in mental health and social function (Schranz, 2014).
- Improved motor control: children who undertake resistance training see vast improvements in coordination, balance, and general motor control, which further prepares them for the rigors of sport and life (Zwolski, 2017).
- Reduced fat mass: the implementation of a high-quality resistance training program in children can help reduce fat mass and limit their likelihood of becoming overweight or obese (Collins, 2018).
- Better cardiovascular health: resistance training in children has been shown to improve vascular function and cardiovascular health, which will help stave off cardiovascular disease in later life (Yu, 2016).
- Better metabolic health: finally, kids resistance training has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, and enhance blood cholesterol, all of which leads to improvements in metabolic health and a reduced risk of diabetes (Bea, 2017).
Like I said – the long term effects of resistance training in children are seriously impressive.
Resistance training recommendations for children
The US Department of Health and Human Services (2008) state that:
- Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
- That the bulk of this 60 minutes should be comprised of either moderate or vigorous intensity aerobic activity
- That they also participate in physical activity that places a priority on the strengthening of muscle and bone, on at least 3 days of the week.
When we take a close look at these guidelines, we can clearly see that for optimal health, children should participate in three resistance training sessions per week – however, there are some considerations that we need to make before we jump straight in.
Good resistance training practices
To ensure that your training session is as safe as possible, it should be individualized based upon age and maturity. Moreover, each session should include a 5 to 10-minute warm-up, and a 5 to 10-minute cooldown.
New exercises should be performed with body weight only (before adding any external load). This will ensure the appropriate development of technique. Additionally, to maximize the development of joint health, strength, and flexibility, all exercises should be performed using a full range of motion.
With this in mind, large compound movements should always be performed at the start of the session. Smaller isolation exercises should be performed at the end of the session. Start with 6 to 8 exercises per session, with 1 to 2 sets per exercise, 6 to 15 repetitions in each set. Rest for around 2 minutes between sets.
Finally, kids weight training should involve a variety of resistance training types. This includes free weights, weight machines, rubber tubing, and medicine balls.
The introduction of some plyometrics (jumping movements) to improve coordination and bone growth is also recommended. Additionally, the introduction of core-specific exercises should be intorduced to promote optimal spine health and function.
Related Article: FUNtervals – Exercise Intervals For Children
What are the risks of resistance training?
To be completely honest, the risk of resistance training in children is actually very small. Most injuries that do occur in training tend to be the result of either training with poor form, or training with maximal intensities to muscular failure (Myers, 2017).
With this in mind, if you follow the resistance training good practices outlined above, the likelihood of your child getting injures is extremely slim.
And given the fact that resistance training has been shown to reduce injury risk, I would argue the positives far outweigh the negatives in this manner.
Take Home Message
For a very long time, resistance training was left for athletes and gym junkies. A growing body of research suggests that it should be a key component of everyone’s exercise routine.
Especially your children’s.
Children’s resistance training has been shown to have a number of powerful benefits on both physical and mental health. Additionally, it improves weight management, learning capabilities, and reducing injury risk.
So, what in the world are you waiting for?
Myers, Allison M., Nicholas W. Beam, and Joseph D. Fakhoury. “Resistance training for children and adolescents.” Translational pediatrics 6.3 (2017): 137.
Zwolski, Christin, Catherine Quatman-Yates, and Mark V. Paterno. “Resistance training in youth: laying the foundation for injury prevention and physical literacy.” Sports health 9.5 (2017): 436-443.
Mandolesi, Laura, et al. “Effects of physical exercise on cognitive functioning and wellbeing: Biological and psychological benefits.” Frontiers in psychology 9 (2018).
Glapa, Agata, et al. “The impact of Brain Breaks classroom-based physical activities on attitudes toward physical activity. In Polish school children in third to fifth grade.”. International journal of environmental research and public health 15.2 (2018): 368.
Dolezal, Brett A., et al. “Interrelationship between sleep and exercise: a systematic review.” Advances in preventive medicine 2017 (2017).
Legerlotz, Kirsten, et al. “Physiological adaptations following resistance training in youth athletes—a narrative review.” Pediatric exercise science 28.4 (2016): 501-520.
Schranz, Natasha, et al. “Can resistance training change the strength, body composition and self-concept of overweight and obese adolescent males? A randomised controlled trial.” Br J Sports Med 48.20 (2014): 1482-1488.
Collins, Helen, et al. “The effect of resistance training interventions on weight status in youth: a meta-analysis.” Sports medicine-open 4.1 (2018): 41.
Yu, Clare Chung-Wah, et al. “Effects of resistance training on cardiovascular health in non-obese active adolescents.” World journal of clinical pediatrics 5.3 (2016): 293.
Bea, Jennifer W., et al. “Resistance training effects on metabolic function among youth: A systematic review.” Pediatric exercise science 29.3 (2017): 297-315.
US Department of Health and Human Services. “2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans.” http://www. health. gov/paguidelines/ (2008).