Exercise for Kids: Is Strength Training Safe?
It is a long-held truth in society that when children train for strength, they will stunt their growth. It’s a known fact, right?
I mean, every time I post a video of my 10 year daughter deadlifting 135lbs for reps, I gets comments telling me that I am abusing my children. She will forever be stuck at her current height, which based on my lack of height isn’t too far-fetched!
But throughout the years of examining this both in the field and in the lab, smart and controlled and well-coached weight training will NOT lead to any increased risk of injury (actually quite the contrary) nor will it stunt growth. So why the stigma?
In 2004 “The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology; Metabolism” reported that competitive gymnasts, with over 26-28 hours of training per week, were shorter and leaner than their non-gymnast peers. However, this is not the same as 2-3 hours of weight training per week. This is repetitive and very calorically restricting, so one can argue overuse and malnourishment.
And did they remain short? Nope. Even with this slower growth, they did experience “catch-up growth” once their competitive careers ended.
So even in the worst of terrible circumstances, everything evened out in the end.
And might I add this does not account for the fact that perhaps shorter kids are more likely to compete in gymnastics than taller kids? My daughter tried competitive gymnastics and cheer, but her 95th percentile height and weight made her move onto something more fitting… soccer!
Exercise for kids: How to perform a plank.
So What About Weight Training?
I can litter this article with studies, but I will just reference this one: Weight training in youth-growth, maturation, and safety: an evidence-based review, published in Clin J Sport Med. 2006 Nov;16(6):478-87. This was a study looking over a bunch of studies, 22 to be exact. And the findings?
Experimental programs most often used isotonic machines and free weights, 2- and 3-day protocols, and 8- and 12-week durations, with significant improvements in muscular strength during childhood and early adolescence. Strength gains were lost during detraining. Experimental resistance training programs did not influence growth in height and weight of pre- and early-adolescent youth, and changes in estimates of body composition were variable and quite small. Only 10 studies systematically monitored injuries, and only three injuries were reported. Estimated injury rates were 0.176, 0.053, and 0.055 per 100 participant-hours in the respective programs.
Experimental training protocols with weights and resistance machines and with supervision and low instructor/participant ratios are relatively safe and do not negatively impact growth and maturation of pre and early-pubertal youth.
So there we go, it is safe, period. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t adhere to the greatest safety precautions possible, these are developing kids after all!
When to Start
Have you ever seen a two year old squat? PERFECT form since it is a primal movement!
Pick something up? ALL LEGS since a primal movement. Push their sister? PERFECT FORM! The thing is, it is never to early to start healthy exercise! As long as they can listen and take direction, they are ready!
How to Start
The key is to progress. I will go over the main lifts we can teach kids. There is MUCH more to this and those things will be covered in subsequent articles. For now, we will focus on three movements:
- Overhead Press
There also are push-ups, but that needs no progression.
The Barbell Squat
There are things we need to follow in this order to let a child squat. And, oh yeah, until about 13-14 years old I do NOT recommend the standard back squat due to the pressure it puts on the spine. For this movement, I recommend the Goblet Squat. See progression below:
- MUST be able to hold a plank for 1 minute. Watch: How to Perform a Plank
- Must be able to do a bodyweight squat. Watch: How to Perform a Goblet Squat
The Barbell Deadlift
This is another primal movement. We will do the following to make it perfect!
- MUST be able to hold a plank for 1 minute. Watch: Wall-Facing Deadlift
- Start light and focus on perfect form. Watch: How to Perform a Deadlift
The Standing Overhead Press
- MUST be able to hold a plank for 1 minute.
- The overhead press. Watch: How to Perform a Standing Overhead Press
Now we go right to dumbbells! No need for anything in between.
How to perform a perfect push up.
Push Ups can be done at ANY AGE ANYTIME and never do the push-ups on your knees as it forms BAD HABITS and muscle memory.
Time to Breed ALPHA CHILDREN!
I rest my case.
Science says it is safe if done smart and ending childhood obesity starts with YOU. If you are interested in developing healthy children who excel at all sports, consider adding this to your quality family time today! Because raising healthy, strong and active children… That’s not a game!