When should kids start exercising? And what’s the best way to get kids interested in exercise? This is a common question parents have when they understand all the benefits of exercise in general. Strength training is a key part to an exercise plan for any age but sometimes there are concerns about whether or not lifting weights can stunt growth.
First things first, it is perfectly safe for kids to lift weights without fear of stunted growth or injury. As long as the workout plan they follow is sensibly designed by a professional, then kids can happily exercise (including strength training) without worry and reap all the benefits. However, what are the benefits of working out when you’re young? Why would kids want to start working out to begin with?
The CDC recommends that kids between the ages of 6 and 17 get 60 minutes of activity everyday, and for good reason. Kids can experience a lot of the same general benefits that people of all ages can experience: improved strength, better balance and coordination, increased bone density, healthier heart, better body composition, and reduced risk and severity of injury to name a few of the benefits. One of the more obvious benefits for youth in sports is improved sports performance when their off-the-field programming is designed to enhance their performance on the field.
A big understated benefit is better academic performance. The positive ties between exercise (particularly cardiovascular exercise) and improvements in attention span and memory are many. In the book Spark author by John J. Ratey chronicles schools who implemented specific PE curriculum focused on cardiovascular exercise at strategic times which showed measurable increase in academic performance by students. It’s a fascinating read, and here is a 4 minute youtube video summarizing these effects.
Additional huge benefits for a young exercisers are improved self esteem, a healthier body image, and establishing the habit of working out. This makes it easier to maintain their health as they mature into adulthood. There are many good habits that children can learn in the gym, provided they are being given the tools to learn goal setting and self confidence.
So why would kids want to start working out? Unsurprisingly, it often ties back to the benefits that come from working out in general. Kids might want to be better at sports, they might start being concerned about their health or their body image, or they might just think it will help them gain more confidence. Regardless of the precise reason, it’s important to support kids when they decide for themselves to start making healthier choices. That support may look like professional guidance from a trainer around proper form and programming specific to their goals. Fortunately, if your child already likes playing outside or participates in sports, then they might already be close to the recommended amount of activity, if they’re not there already.
It would be remiss to point out that not all kids will find the idea of exercising appealing. Like adults, some children are not motivated to play sports or start lifting weights for the sake of it. It can be wise to exercise caution when encouraging kids to start exercising if they don’t like working out.
Here are a few key tips to focus on when inspiring kids to move more and be active.
- Set the example. If you’re not active, then it’s going to be hard to convince your kids that they should start. By making healthy choices yourself, you model the good behavior that you want out of the ones you care for most. Consider including your kids in you workouts and making it a family affair.
- Be willing to try a lot of different things until you find something they do like. As kids get older and/or more involved in sports, it’s easier to get them on board with conventional strength training. When kids are younger, it may be more difficult to get them on a strength training routine so you’ll have to try sports and other physical activities. It’s worth mentioning that not every kid is going to care about traditional sports. Furthermore, not every tall child will like basketball, and not every small child will like gymnastics, and that’s OK. The point is to be willing to experiment with a variety of activities until you find what clicks. Once you tap into a passion, sticking with programming to improve performance can come more naturally.
- When your child finds something they are interested in, be supportive of that activity. Encourage them to pursue whatever it is that they choose and find ways to become more involved in said activity. Support them by helping them find opportunities to improve and make progress.
- Start small and don’t worry about getting it perfect on the first try. Similar to how we train adults, we start with small, incremental changes until we get to where we want to be. Children don’t need to max out on weights or do overly complex exercises. When it comes to sports, they might not catch every ball, but they can learn to have fun while learning from their mistakes. It might sound cliché, but you have to walk before you can run.
Technology and exercise
There are recommendations online to limit screen time and take away technology from kids to encourage exercise. While this advice may seem common, it is not without its drawbacks. Limiting technology runs the risk of making the child feel like they’re being punished. Associating exercise with punishments is universally agreed on by experts to be an ineffective practice and potentially create a situation where the child will grow up hating working out.
In reality, taking advantage technology can help motivate kids to make to make healthier choices just like it does for us adults. As adults, we often rely on our phones during workouts to keep track of our workouts, our progress, and in many cases to distract us from the fact that we’re exercising. When an adult is working out, we recommend all the time that they use technology to watch TV, listen to podcasts, listen to audiobooks, read the news, play music, and many other things to help pass the time during the workout and keep the mind engaged.
Sometimes you can use technology to find inspiration. If your child looks up to an athlete, then connecting exercise and positive benefits is easy. However, if your child isn’t a big sports fan, then you can try encouraging them to pursue positive role models who incorporate and consider staying active a big part of their success.
Everyone’s fitness journey is unique, and it’s the same for kids. Getting more active and maintaining health into adulthood will be different for each young person. Some kids might take the traditional route of playing a sport, lifting weights to get better at that sport, and then getting in a routine as they become an adult. Other kids might just start exercising as teens to be more proactive about their health without ever stepping onto a sports field. Exactly how kids gets active doesn’t matter. The important thing is to help your child develop a healthy relationship with fitness, goal setting, and wellness so that they can maintain it as they grow older and become adults.
American Heart Association. (2021, September 13). How can I help my child be more physically active? www.heart.org. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-children
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). How and why to get children moving now. American Psychological Association. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/children-exercise-strategies
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, March 9). How much physical activity do children need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/index.htm
Dahab, K. S., & McCambridge, T. M. (2009, May). Strength training in children and adolescents: Raising the bar for young athletes? Sports health. Retrieved March 17, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3445252/#__ffn_sectitle
Haff, G. G., &; Triplett, N. T. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Human Kinetics.
Malina R. M. (2006). Weight training in youth-growth, maturation, and safety: an evidence-based review. Clinical journal of sport medicine : official journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, 16(6), 478–487. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.jsm.0000248843.31874.be
National Strength and Conditioning Association. (n.d.). Position stand youth resistance training – NSCA. Retrieved March 17, 2022, from https://www.nsca.com/globalassets/about/position-statements/position_stand_youth_resistance_training—2009.pdf
Using physical activity as punishment and/or behavior management – shape america. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2022, from https://www.shapeamerica.org/uploads/pdfs/positionstatements/Using-Physical-Activity-as-Punishment-2009.pdf
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Author Travis Robe, CSCS, is a Personal Trainer at Hyatt Training with a BA in Kinesiology. In addition to his experience with strength training, he is also a lifelong martial artist. He believes in using fitness as a way to build discipline and confidence to overcome any challenge life may present you. Learn more about Travis, or get in touch with him by emailing us at Go@HyattTraining.com.