I wrote a recent post about why and how to get your kids to start moving and exercise more. Focusing on kids and strength training specifically, what should be the primary focus? And what are they getting out of doing something like lifting weights in the first place? We already know the basic benefits of lifting weights: heart health, bone density, blood pressure, and the other general health markers. This post focuses on the benefits of increasing muscle mass and how that muscle leads to fewer injuries, better balance, improved coordination, foundational core strength and confidence.
Kids who do strength training tend to be injured less often than kids who don’t. According to a clinical review of research performed by Zwolski and colleagues, a resistance training program alongside regular play can measurably reduce injury risk for youth athletes by as much as 68%. Other research on adolescent Rugby players shows reduced the rate of injuries as well as concussions.
Additional research has also found strong relationships between isometric neck strength and reducing spinal injuries as well as concussions. Potential for concussion prevention is one of the more powerful yet understated benefits of regular strength work. If you have any concerns about concussions, sports, and your child, it would be more prudent to seek advice from a licensed medical professional.
However, It is fair to say that parents never want to see their children get hurt in any way while playing on the field. Improved sports performance is awesome, but injury prevention is a huge part of being able to perform in your sport and decidedly impacts overall quality of life.
How does strength training help reduce injuries?
There are two reasonable deductions one can make about how resistance training can help you avoid getting hurt.
1) The first benefit is that by having better awareness of your body, alongside improving core strength and coordination, you are less likely to end up in positions where you can get hurt. Think about times where you’re about to trip but you’re able to catch yourself and regain your balance.
2) The second is that having stronger muscles means that the human body can endure more strain at a given moment. Regardless of whether the stimulus is something like pitching in baseball or a header in soccer, being in better shape can protect you from overuse and impacts alike. A common theme amongst every peer reviewed scientific article on the topic of exercise and children is the demand for more research to be conducted. Most researchers are particularly passionate about finding more ways to use fitness as a way to reduce injuries and increase quality of life for children.
A second big concern for many parents is healthy weight control and body image. Childhood obesity has been found to increase risk for common physical health markers like blood pressure, heart health, blood sugar, and even increased risk for severe for chronic diseases. Other concerns relate to mental health, self esteem, quality of life, and stress management. There are a lot of factors that can contribute to childhood obesity such as food availability, sugary drinks, physical activity, depression, anxiety, and many others. Research supports that exercise is an integral part of aiding any of these ailments. Establishing healthy habits early in life also makes it easier for young people to maintain a healthy mind and body as they get older.
Lifting weights, in particular, helps to maintain a healthy weight by increasing skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscle is a key factor in a couple of areas.
1) Muscle burns more calories than fat. So by increasing your muscle mass, you burn more calories at rest.
2) Research is emerging on skeletal muscle as a metabolic organ that is part of the endocrine system. Resistance training releases myokines, which are hormones created inside the muscle fiber when it’s at work that help to manage everything from insulin resistance to BDNF.
Getting started lifting weights
So what should you do once your kid decided to get started with strength training? Here are some of the important things to consider when your child first steps foot in the gym.
Weights are safe, but super heavy weights not so much. While it’s perfectly safe and effective to lift weights as a child, it isn’t a good idea to lift really heavy. Challenging yourself is a good thing, but you should avoid using weights that your child could only lift for 1-5 reps. Even for seasoned adult athletes, the only sports that really benefit from doing 1 rep max strength tests are powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, or Strongman. You might notice that all of these sports directly involve performing these heavy maxes. Instead focus on using light weights or even no weights at all to help build technique and physical awareness.
Avoid overly technical lifts. Olympic lifts like the snatch and clean and jerk, or heavily loaded barbell exercises like backsquats, bench press, and deadlifts should be avoided due to the technical nature of the lifts. They can have their benefit in your late teens, think 16 and older, once you’ve had enough time to gain more experience and build up your coordination. Even then it would be prudent to only do them under supervision of a coach or trainer until they’ve mastered the exercise and still avoid really heavy weights. Instead, focus on simple exercises as a way to improve skill and coordination before worrying about complicated exercises.
Start out supervised. When it’s their first time really working out and kids are still learning about how to move their bodies, it’s highly recommended to do it with the guidance of a trainer. Some exercises can be deceiving in their difficulty, and it can be discouraging when you have a hard time with an exercise and can’t think of a substitute. Children often struggle with core strength and stability, two attributes that really enhance your ability to lift weights safely. Having a professional present to help ensure proper progression and safety can be invaluable.
Don’t focus on doing perfect; focus on doing better. Working out can be hard, no matter how old or young you are. Your child probably isn’t going to have textbook form when doing push ups for the first time and you shouldn’t expect them too. One of the often neglected challenges of working out when you’re young is that you’re still growing, meaning that you could hit a growth spurt and be differently proportioned compared to the last time you did an exercise. Instead, encourage them to focus on getting better at each exercise until they can do it perfectly.
Make it fun. This is another thing that rings true at every age. If your child doesn’t like doing push ups or gets discouraged when they aren’t good at them, there are plenty of other exercises that work similar muscles. Again, it’s important to focus on what you can to do better, since nobody is perfect the first time they do something new.
Keep it safe and fun
When examining any workout program for kids, the two most important factors are safety and enjoyment in service of maintaining consistency and progress. One of the main established benefits of working out is injury prevention. Having a workout plan with unsafe programming runs obviously contrary to that benefit. Secondly, whether or not a workout is fun to do will dictate if a kid will stick with it. Safe and effective exercises that your child enjoys doing will lead to consistency and consistency leads to progress. Progress leads to building that foundation of strength and coordination that in turn leads into fewer injuries, improved athletic performance and better life-long metabolic management.
The workout plan for every age varies widely depending on maturity and goals. A 10-year-old who likes ninjas and Minecraft will have different ideas of what’s fun then a 16-year-old with competitive sports goals. Regardless of which stage of life and what you want to get out of exercise, there is a path for you and your children to follow. Many trainers like to overuse a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote in regards to journeys and destinations for good reason. With life-long health as an end goal, the steps you take when you’re young are often easier to take and make it easier to sustain as you mature.
Ready to get started? Let’s do this! Summer is a great time to jumpstart a routine and we’ve got a program in place just for students.
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
Faigenbaum, A. D., & Myer, G. D. (2010). Resistance training among young athletes: safety, efficacy and injury prevention effects. British journal of sports medicine, 44(1), 56–63. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.2009.068098
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Zwolski, C., Quatman-Yates, C., & Paterno, M. V. (2017). Resistance Training in Youth: Laying the Foundation for Injury Prevention and Physical Literacy. Sports health, 9(5), 436–443. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738117704153
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.
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