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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Should You Let Your Child Lift Weights?

Ask any parent at if children should be allowed to participate in resistance training type activities and you're bound to get in a heated debate.  

It seems that people feel pretty passionately about one way or the other with the fans claiming it can help increase activity, decrease body fat, and be a great way to bond with their kids.  Critics claim weight lifting is too dangerous, can cause harm to growth plates and not safe until after puberty.  

So, what's the truth?  First, let's address if strength training is safe for children.  (For the sake of this post, I'm referring to children 7 years and older. )

Many critics suggest strength training is unsafe for children due to potential damage that can occur to growth plates.  Turns out, that's a myth.  Over the years many studies, like this one, have researched this exact topic and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics Online, "In general, training with weights has been found to help increase strength in children without negative effects on things such as bone growth or blood pressure. "

In fact, in a "Tween and Teen" article, Mayo Clinic encourages adding strength training into your child's exercise repertoire because when done properly, strength training can:
  • Increase your child's muscle strength and endurance
  • Help protect your child's muscles and joints from sports-related injuries
  • Improve your child's performance in nearly any sport, from dancing and figure skating to football and soccer
  • Strengthen your child's bones
  • Help promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Help your child maintain a healthy weight
  • Improve your child's confidence and self-esteem
While this is all great news if you and your kid are itching to get lifting, there are a few items left to consider before you head to the weight room:

Injuries do happen:  While the argument about damage to growth plates has long since been debunked, strength training still has risk involved.  Whether you're in a home gym, fitness center or group class make sure your child is always under proper supervision.  Grown adults who know the proper mechanics of strength training still get hurt, and beyond that accidents happen.  Don't leave your child unsupervised.  

Children are not mini adults: With shorter attention spans, poor spatial awareness, balance and postural control, and lack of knowledge, children should not be treated like miniature adults. They're children.  Giving them complex movements with a list of details to remember, sets, repetitions, weight formulations, and timed sequences may be a bit overwhelming.  Start with body weight or extremely light weight exercises and keep the focus on proper form.  

Strength training is different bodybuilding or powerlifting: There is a distinct difference between those three disciplines.  Most children have success with strength training when the workload consists of lighter weight and higher repetitions.  However, if you and your child want to try your hand at something more specialized I'd highly suggest you do so under the proper supervision of a professional who has experience with training children.  

So back to the initial question, should you let your children lift weights?  All things considered, if you AND your child have an interest, arm yourself with the required knowledge (or hire a professional to help you both), devote the time and give it a go!  

Your turn:  Would you/Do you let allow your child to participate in strength training activities ?  

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