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Is Your Son or Daughter Ready to Lift Weights?

12 Questions Every Parent Should Answer Before Allowing Your Child to Start Weight Training

When I was growing up very few teens lifted weights. As a matter of fact, most coaches discouraged lifting fearing that it would stunt a child’s growth or make them “muscle-bound.” If you played football, you probably did some lifting on an old Universal machine. The high school weight room was often a converted broom closet or unused room in the lowest level of the school. Swimmers, soccer players, baseball and track athletes probably could not even tell you where the weight room was in their school. Girls did not lift weights.

Times have changed. If you are participating in a high school sport, you lift weights. The Universal machine has been replaced with racks, barbells, dumbells, kettlebells, benches and specialized equipment to make athletes bigger, stronger and faster. The myths about stunting growth and becoming muscle-bound have gone in the same trash heap as the Thigh Master and Bullworker.

Strength training has become mandatory for participation in most sports and children are starting younger and younger. Strength training has been used to help children lose weight, gain muscle and improve sports performance. Almost every high school and junior high school has a weight room manned by a “coach.”

But how can we be sure that our children are getting proper coaching in the fundamentals of a strength training program. How heavy should my child be lifting? How can I tell if the weight room is properly supervised?

Having a good understanding of what strength training is and what goals are best for youth will help you choose the right training facility for your child. Here are ten questions you should have the answer to before allowing your child to participate in a strength training program.

1. What is strength training?

Strength training involves more than just lifting weights. Strength training, weight training and resistance training are just a few terms that people use to describe ways to increase strength and muscle size. Strength training is any exercise program that progressively challenges muscles, joints, bones and the nervous system using resistance to increase muscle strength, size and/or performance.

Exercise machines, bodyweight, free weights as well as kettlebells, medicine balls, sandbags and other specialized equipment are a few tools that are used in strength training programs.

2. What is the goal of strength training for youth?

The main goals of a youth strength training program should be to instill an ongoing interest in fitness while teaching proper form in a safe and properly supervised environment. A good strength training program should also improve strength of the muscles and bones and be part of a total fitness program that includes aerobic conditioning, flexibility and agility.

A good strength training program will set the foundation for lifelong health and athletic performance as the child grows into maturity.

3. What are the benefits of strength training?

  • Increase muscular strength and endurance

  • Improves power production

  • May also play an important role in effective weight loss strategies.

  • Provide an opportunity to enhance motor coordination

  • Improves confidence in their perceived abilities to be physically active

  • Improve sports performance

  • Improves Body composition

  • Improves insulin sensitivity

  • Better balance

  • Enhances psychosocial wellbeing

  • Improves speed of movement and coordination

  • May decrease risk and severity of injury in sports

  • Improves cardiovascular risk profile

  • Increases bone mineral density

4. How young can my child start strength training?

Strength training can be started at any age provided that the child has the emotional maturity to listen to and follow directions and understand basic safety rules. If you child already participates in some form of organized sports, they can also start strength training.

5. What are the chances my child will get hurt?

Strength training programs are highly safe if the program is designed to meet the needs, abilities and goals of the child and is properly supervised by an adult who is certified in strength training. The majority of injuries with weight training are muscle strains of the hand, low back and upper trunk. Most of these injuries take place at home using equipment that is not safe or in poorly supervised settings.

Under proper supervision where technique is emphasized over the amount of weight lifted, injury rates are lower than those a child might get at recess or in a structured sport setting.

Strength training can also improve a young athlete’s ability to withstand contact and collision in sports.

6. What is proper supervision?

The American Academy of Pediatrics defines proper supervision as an instructor to student ratio of no more than 1:10 and has an approved certification.

Instructors should understand that each child is an individual with different abilities as well as physical and emotional needs and should be competent in strength training guidelines for youth.

Training instruction should focus on proper exercise technique and safe training procedures. The amount of weight lifted should be the least important factor in training.

Weight room etiquette should be taught and enforced to maintain a safe exercise environment.

7. Should all children train the same?

The main focus of any strength training program for youth should be to teach proper technique on all exercises and movement patterns and instill a sense of fun and accomplishment so fitness and strength training becomes a lifestyle choice. Program design will vary based on the growth and maturation, goals and motivation of each child.

8. Are machines or free weights better?

Youth can train using free weights, bodyweight, machines or other specialized equipment such as medicine balls, kettlebells and suspension systems. The machines in most gyms are designed for adult sizes and may not fit young children properly. Machines also isolate muscle groups and do not always allow muscle groups to work together as in a sport or daily life.

Free weights help develop core strength and balance due to the stabilization required to control the resistance. A variety of movement patterns can be used with free weights to mimic sport-specific movements.

9. Which exercises are best?

The majority of exercises used in a good strength training program should involve large muscle groups and focus on using the body as one unit. Choose exercises from the basic movement patterns – Squat, Lunge, Push, Pull, Hinge, Twist and Carry.

Repetitions should be kept moderately high and youth should be discouraged from attempting maximum weights or going to failure.

10. Should my child see a doctor before starting a strength training program?

Most children can start a strength training program without a medical examination. If your child has a suspected or known health problem, a medical examination is recommended.

11. How much is enough?

Programs should start with one or two sets of 8-15 repetitions per exercise two to three times a week. Progression should be based on using proper form. As competency is acquired, the number of sets, repetitions, exercises and intensity can increase.

12. What are some red flags I should be concerned about?

• Emphasis on how much weight is lifted over technique.

• No supervision or “babysitting”

• Crowded Weight Rooms

• No instruction on technique

• Unsafe equipment

• One size program for all

• Coaches without a minimal certification in strength training

A good strength training program has many benefits. Understanding the answers to the questions above will help parents choose a safe and effective strength training program for their child.

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