During childhood, kids improve their body awareness, control and balance through active play. As early as age seven or eight strength training can become a valuable part of an overall fitness plan. The child must be mature enough to follow directions, and practice proper technique and form in order for this to be a safe and productive activity.
If your child expresses an interest in strength training, remind him or her that strength training is meant to increase muscle strength and endurance. Bulking up is something else entirely, and done much more effectively after adolescence. As long as the child’s body is still growing, large muscles will not be possible.
You might also check with your child’s doctor before beginning a strength training program. This is especially necessary if your child has a known, or suspected health problem. These can include a heart condition, high blood pressure, or a seizure disorder.
Start with a coach or personal trainer who has experience with youth strength training. The coach or trainer can create a safe, effective strength training program based on your child’s age, size, skills and sports interests. Enroll your child in a strength training class designed for kids is another option. If you yourself are a trainer, or extremely well versed in lifting technique, then perhaps you can undertake this yourself. This is a good time as a parent to really evaluate your own technique, as you may not necessarily be the poster of perfection when you lift regardless of what your impression of your skills are. When dealing with not yet developed bodies, caution is extremely important.
Encourage your child to begin each strength training session with five to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity, such as walking, jogging in place or jumping rope. This warms the muscles and prepares them for the tougher activity ahead. Gentle stretching after each session is a good idea, too.
Kids can safely lift adult-size weights, as long as the weight is light enough. In most cases, one set of 12 to 15 repetitions is all it takes. The resistance doesn’t have to come from weights, either. Body-weight exercises, such as push-ups, are other effective options.
Rather than focusing on the amount of weight your child lifts, stress proper form and technique during each exercise. Your child can gradually increase the resistance or number of repetitions as he or she gets older. Adult supervision is an important part of youth strength training.
Make sure your child rests at least one full day between exercising each specific muscle group. Two or three strength training sessions a week are plenty. Help your child vary the routine to prevent boredom.