Thursday, February 21, 2013

Weight Training for Children - Important Things to Consider

It's great if your child loves to exercise, but what if you have a younger child of 6 to 8 years old that wants to participate in more adult activities, such as lifting weights?  While some think it is perfectly fine for children to lift weights, there are others that think differently.

English: Osgood-Schlatter disease. Lateral rad...
Osgood-Schlatter disease. Lateral radiograph of the knee demonstrating fragmentation of the tibial tubercle (see inset) with overlying soft tissue swelling. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The long and short of it is that while it can be very beneficial for your child to partake in a weight training regimen, there are a few things that you should keep in mind.

No matter how you look at it, children aren't miniature adults and therefore you can't use the same methods with growing children that you can use with adults, as children are different from adults emotionally, anatomically, and physiologically.

All children have immature skeletons, as their bones don't mature until somewhere between 14 - 22 years of age.  With girls, exercise (or the lack of it) during childhood can have very critical effects on bone health that can last for their entire lives.

Children are often times vulnerable to growth related overuse injuries such as Osgood Schlatter disease.  Children also have immature temperature regulation systems due to their having a large surface area compared to their muscle mass which will cause them to be more susceptible to injury when they aren't properly warmed up.

Children don't sweat as much as adults do, so they will be more susceptible to heat exhaustion as well as a heat stroke and dehydration.  Due to their low muscle mass and immature hormone system, it makes it harder for them to develop strength and speed. Their breathing and heart response during exercise are also different from an adult's, which will affect their capacity for exercise.

On the other hand, young boys and girls can drastically improve their strength with weight training although opposed to adults, neurological factors instead of muscle growth factors are mostly responsible.

When you consider weight training programs for children, first and foremost you should obtain a medical clearance from your child's pediatrician.  The first approach to designing a program is to establish a repetition range of 8 - 12 and keep the work load appropriate for the range, as well as the age, size, and strength of your child.

The weight stack from a cable machine: each pl...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You should ensure that workouts are spread out enough to have at least 1 - 2 full days of rest between sessions. The main focus when working out should be on the form of every exercise performed, and not on the amount of weight being lifted. Proper technique is important for everyone when working out, but especially children, whose smaller growing frames can be especially adversely affected by injury. Teaching the importance of proper form and technique while young will also carry over into adulthood, and give them a sense of responsibility and control over their own bodies.

Before weight training, be sure your child does a proper warmup including stretching to avoid injury.  Start your child off with light loads and then make adjustments accordingly.  No more than 3 non-consecutive weight sessions should be done in a week.  You should also see to it that they drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise.  Getting enough water is very important with exercise, as it is often very easy to get dehydrated - especially with children who have smaller bodies that hold less water.

If you follow these important tips, your child can definitely benefit from incorporating some weight training into their activities. It can help them build strong bones for life, balance out their musculature, and promote increased self esteem and independence - all these are great benefits that will help them grow into healthy adulthood.
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