As a strength coach, I talk to a lot of kids and their parents and I hear many misconceptions about childhood fitness, particularly as it relates to weight training (also known as resistance training or strength training). Concerns from parents about it stunting their child’s growth, that they don’t want their child getting bulky, or that it’s dangerous. None of those are true, and there’s plenty of science to show that strength training, when done correctly, has many benefits both physical and mental.
It typically takes 8-12 weeks to see marked improvement in young athletes coordination and performance through change of direction drills, acceleration and deceleration drills, plyometric or jump training, and through lifting weights through basic movement patterns. Getting stronger and learning these athletic movements increases the chance of an athlete earning more playing time and decreases the risk of injury. Further, kids who strength train stand with improved posture, increase explosive power and have an edge up on the competition as they age.
Science also shows strength training not only helps improve self-esteem, academic focus, and executive function in children, it increases a child’s likelihood of continuing exercise as a lifelong habit. A report published by the NIH1 found “physical activity significantly related to improved cognition in children,” and “the effect that activity was greatest for middle school and young elementary age children.” With the rise of school related anxiety in children, strength training has been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety such as poor sleep quality and mental distress. Strength training has also been proven to improve brain cognition; meaning that your child can improve recall and stored memory, and will improve as they age!
So, let’s talk about the number one (and rightly so) concern that parents have: safety. With a well qualified coach and a structured program designed for your child’s age and development, strength training is completely safe and beneficial. 2“Healthcare and fitness professional groups—including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association—agree that a supervised strength training program that follows the recommended guidelines and precautions is safe and effective for children.”
When choosing a program for your child, make sure the coach controls the amount of weight your child lifts and the modality of which they lift so they can train safely. Kids should not try strength training on their own, or try to learn from online videos. Be sure the training is always supervised by an experienced and certified strength coach that teaches your child the proper technique, the purpose and benefit of the exercises, as well as safe and respectful gym behavior. Performed in a safe environment with proper load, weight training will increase strength, but not muscle size. As your child develops into their teenage years, weight training will result in an improvement in body composition.
Because weight training will also helps to improve conditions like high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and obesity, we encourage inactive children or those not playing sports to strength train as well. Using an InBody scan we have tracked marked improvement in body composistion with several of our youth fitness participants who were facing weight issues. And, we have found that even in kids with physical disabilities, strength training is a reasonable and beneficial protocol. We have worked with numerous youths with disabilities, including a young man with cerebral palsy. His strength has improved to the point that he is reaching his goal of walking with one crutch. I like to say that the iron belongs to everybody, and I know that his self esteem and confidence has risen because he is doing strength training.
One thing we hear from college coaches, and our athletes that have gone on to play collegiate sports, is that athletes who strength train are better prepared for the rigors of playing at the collegiate level. After training hundreds of athletes and teams over the years, in addition to seeing increased performance on the field, our young athletes learn important qualities such as leadership, focus, and team building. These intangibles translate on the field of play and develop skills that translate to the rest of their lives.
The fact is, strength training has many benefits. Your child will have improved athletic performance, an increase in confidence, and overall better health. At next level, we work with youth who want to be competitive athletes, and kids who want a good time in a non competitive environment. So long as you are working with a qualified coach, your child will stay safe and make the most of out their youth experience. Your child will develop the habits of hard work and consistency that carry on for the rest of their lives.
About the Author
Zach Hackerson is a Next Level Performance Coach and ACSM-Certified Personal Trainer.