Is weight training good for kids?

Flt. Lieutenant and fitness trainer Akshay Chopra explains why weight training is good for kids.

Have you ever thought, why a country of over a billion strong people and the largest youth population in the world struggles to produce a handful of good sportsmen. Reasons like politics, red tapism, corruption, poverty, illiteracy etc. will always be there. There are other reasons strong , but we have never given them a serious thought.

One of the major reasons stated are the bad genetics. I can disagree with even the best minds on this topic. It is practically impossible for country with the most diverse culture and population in the world to have bad genetics.

When I was studying for my Youth and Junior Fitness Specialist Certification , which was targeted at the age group of 5-16 years, a major part of the program was dedicated to the study of weight training for kids. If you want to produce Olympic champions, the training starts as early as six years of age. That is why you see teenagers as young as 16 years of age from countries like USA, Russia, China, Australia, EU, UK etc. winning medals at world competitions. Most of these kids have already got over a decade of experience behind them in their particular sport.

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A 1970s study, published in Japan, concluded that child labourers have short stature because they lift heavy weights day in and day out. This type of research findings, anecdotes of this nature and myths about weights are responsible for shaping our thought regarding weight training being bad for growing children.

Even doctors and scientists believe that weight training in children would result in their short stature.

After years of practical research and studies and with support of almost all major sports medicine and sports science institutes, it was proved that weight training is not only safe for children, but is extremely beneficial.

There is a difference between strength training and weight lifting

Strength training is a progressive means of exercising with appropriate resistance, which you gradually increase as the musculoskeletal system becomes stronger. You can use a variety of equipments for strength training like barbells, dumbbells, elastic bands, machines, medicine ball, own body weight etc.

Conversely, weightlifting is a sport in which the participant works with heavy barbells and attempts to lift maximum weight in competitive events. It consists of explosive movements like clean and jerk and the snatch. Here we are concerned with weight training for kids, not weightlifting for kids.

Fundamental fitness

In today s tech savvy world, majority of the youth engage in little physical activity on regular basis. Cases of child obesity and chronic diseases are on an all time high and are increasing at an alarming rate. Children today spend most of their time in front of the television or computers. Such kids desperately need strength training to condition their muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments. Read about why childhood obesity is on the rise.

On the other hand we also have kids, though in relatively small number who are physically active. They love being outdoor and play games like soccer, basketball, swimming, athletics, tennis, badminton etc. Along with the sports specific training such kids need strength training to ensure balanced muscular development and lower the risk of overuse injuries.

Overemphasis on a sport specific skill provides too little stimulus for many sets of muscles, which are used excessively in that particular sport, which can lead to overuse injuries. So such children, before engaging in a particular competitive sport, should undertake basic strength training courses.

Musculoskeletal system and growth

The concept of resistance training revolves around developing a strong and fit musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system consists of myscles, tendons, ligaments and bones that enable us to perform physical activity. A strong musculoskeletal system prepares children for all type of physical activity and reduces the risk of sports related injuries.

One of the common myths is that children do not have sufficient testosterone to gain strength apart from normal growth and maturation. This is a fake assumption. Yes, children have low levels of testosterone to build large muscles, but the purpose of weight training in children is to develop muscle strength not bulk.

A research on children found that the boys and girls increased muscle strength by 74 percent within 2 months of resistance training. This is possible because strength development is associated with a variety of neuromuscular factors and does not depend solely on hormone levels.

Now comes the mother of all myths and among the most prevalent worldwide, concerning growth retardation in children who weight train. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There has never been a report of stunted growth or reduced bone formation related to strength training. On the contrary, progressive resistance exercise makes bones strong and resistant to injury.

Most of the bone mass is acquired during our youth. This is the ideal time to enhance musculoskeletal strength and structure through properly designed resistance training programs. Strength training at this age is beneficial for young girls to reduce risk of osteosporosis later in life. Read about how you can inspire your child to go from fat to fit!

Guidelines to be followed before you start with your kid s strength training program:

1. The instructor has to be qualified in undertaking constructive and safe strength training for children.

2. The number of children should not be > 10 in a group to provide adequate supervision and instruction.

3. A proper warm up has to be done before every session. Static stretching post workout is a must.

4. Children should be mature enough to respond to coaching advice and behave in a disciplined manner.

5. Children should not be allowed to do maximal and near maximal lifts. Children should lift weights that will let them do 8 or more reps. Anything heavier is too heavy.

6. Children who are actively engaging in particular sport should be under proper supervision to avoid overuse injuries.

7. No weightlifting or explosive movements are to be performed with children.

8. In a week 3-4 sessions are sufficient.

9. Increase in weight has to be gradual and as per the individuals capacity.

Exercising from an early age is a habit which lasts a lifetime. It introduces children to the concept of goal setting and teamwork. It not only develops healthy habits but also inculcates the value of good nutrition and fitness. Above all it is an excellent way of boosting self-confidence in children.

You can buy Akshay Chopra s book Why My Mom Never Went On A Diet on Flipkart and Amazon.

Flt. Lieutenant and fitness trainer Akshay Chopra is the owner of Body Mechanics, a New Delhi based gym with modalities like battling ropes, sandbags, chains, tyres, monkey bars, agility ladders, hurdles and a lot more apart from the international cardio and strength equipments. You can check out their Facebook page.

Image source: Shutterstock

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