Q & A: Resistance Training for Children
1. At what age is it safe for my child to begin resistance training?
It is very difficult to select an age that is appropriate for a child to begin resistance training. Development and maturation differs among children for various reasons. In general, children should be able to follow directions and demonstrate balance prior to beginning a resistance training program. The National Strength and Conditioning Association states that if a child is able to participate in sport activities (around 7-8 years of age), then they are ready to begin resistance training.
2. What are the health benefits in doing so?
The benefits of exercise seem fairly common knowledge in today’s world. What is impressive though is that children who are exercising regularly tend to exercise consistently later in life. Coupled with resistance training, a child can decrease the likelihood of developing diabetes, metabolic syndromes, obesity, and other various health complications. For those children also taking part in sports, increased muscular strength is essential for an athlete to remain stable during competition, hold their own in body contact from opposition, and prevent pediatric injuries such as patellofemoral knee pain.
3. What are the potential risks and concerns?
Many parents have concerns with allowing their child to begin resistance training. As with any physical activity, there is an inherent musculoskeletal risk. These risks could include muscular strains from lifting too much or incidents due to poor supervision in the setting, such as a weight falling. Interestingly, a large study examined youth sports-related injuries over a year and found the rate of injury to be 0.7% (of the 1576 injuries) in resistance training compared to 15% in basketball*.
4. What sort of program considerations should be made?
General resistance training recommendations for children are 2-3 days per week of moderate loads and higher repetitions (15 -20). This means the intensity is relatively low and would commonly incorporate bodyweight and resistance band exercises. Free weight exercises (dumbbells and kettlebells) can be used with appropriate adult supervision. All youth resistance training programs should include instruction on proper lifting techniques and specific methods of progression in effort to ensure safety.
5. What type of certifications should a trainer have?
There are many certifications circulating the fitness industry. In general, a strength trainer will obtain one from an established organization such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), American Council on Exercise (ACE), International Sports Science Association (ISSA), or National Council for Certified Personal Trainers (NCCPT). Looking closer at degrees held can be helpful as well, particularly athletic training, exercise science, sports medicine, or biomechanics.
*Faigenbaum AD, Kraemer WJ, Blimkie CJR, Jeffreys I, Micheli L, Nitka M, Rowland T. Youth resistance training: updated position statement paper from the national strength and conditioning association. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Aug;23(5 Suppl):S60-79.