strength training for kids

When is it safe to start strength training for kids?

Does your child play sport and has a coach to teach them the skills and tactics to develop and win?   Does your child run, jump and/or throw in their sport?   Does your child have to use their whole body to perform the skills needed to be successful in their sport?  And of course, when is it safe to start strength training for kids?

These questions seem novel but your child may be ready to start strength/resistance training.  One thing I want to stress, weight/resistance/strength training isn’t just about lifting weights, and heavy ones. It can include using their own body weight, using assistance to allow them to perform an exercise or using a weight ie. dumbbell to provide resistance. All movements the body performs require a certain level of strength, and as the skill becomes more difficult, it will require more strength to execute that skill, and thus strength itself is a skill.  For eg. Jump height, for a child to be able to jump higher, one way is to practice jumping, the skill and strength the lower-body doing squats.

Now if you answered yes to all the questions, then they might be ready to start strength training, but it will be mainly dependent on their ability to follow instructions and the coach’s experience/qualifications. They may see the weight room as a playroom full of toys.  Your child is likely to get injured when the equipment is misused including if they don’t follow instructions or they lift weights well above their current ability. However, it is very unlikely a child will get injured from lifting weights that are appropriate to their skill level.

So where should you start your child when it comes to resistance training?

More strength coaches and programs are allowing  kids to undertake structured and supervised training programs including:

  • Calisthenics

The discipline teaches body awareness, coordination, motor control, improve relative strength and learn to move well. You can enroll into groups and it’s a fun environment for your child. Kids are learning and exploring their own physical capabilities, and if they do it for many years, they’ll retain some of the strength and flexibility that they develop.

  • Junior athletic development programs

Most boutique and strength and conditioning facilities offer programs. They focus on multiple areas of physical fitness. From jumping, sprinting, throwing, bodyweight and free weight (ie. Dumbbells and Barbells) strength training. In our Inner Athlete facility, we run “Teen Learn to Lift” programs.

Another example you should look at is China’s gymnastics and weightlifting programs. Thousands of kids are enrolled. Most kids will begin training at the age of 4-6 years old. Now we’re not in China and there are some questions behind the ethics, but we can take some lessons from them. The kids are being coached throughout their childhood and adolescence. Never once are they left to “figure it out” at a young age. They need coaching and support very early on to make sure they develop and continue through the program.

The ASCA (Australian Strength & Conditioning Association) released a position standpoint:

“If a child is ready to participate in organized and structured sports such as cricket, football, rugby, basketball then they are generally ready to perform a supervised resistance training program. As children typically enter formal school at the age of 6 years they may be ready to participate in an organized resistance training program at about this time. However, the actual age will vary from child to child and will be largely based on their capacity to follow clear directions.”

 

Why should your child play multiple sports until their late teens?

When I was growing up, my parents let me play many sports from Soccer, Rugby League, Tennis, Golf, Basketball, and Karate. The one thing I notice now is the massive exposure to different sports and movements. I believe that knowing this I was able to develop varying characteristics. I felt I was more developed as an all-rounder when it came to athletic ability. I felt what I would develop from Basketball and Tennis helped me with Rugby League. It helped me develop my agility, coordination and cardiovascular fitness.

One of the biggest reasons your child should play multiple sports is avoiding overuse injuries. If a child plays the same sport throughout the year, they’re being exposed to the same movements (Monotony). Over time this leads to wear and tear (Overuse) and exposes the child to injury or illness.

Let me give you this example; Pretend you’re a recreational runner, and you run 3-4 times a week, at the same distance for 6-12 months, you’ll most likely experience the following;

  • Loss of motivation to continue

  • Develop overuse issues/injuries

  • Increase likelihood of illness – reduced immune function

  • See an Allied health professional to help you back to normal health

  • Time taken away from running

  • Negative impact on your mental health – almost all athletes hates spending time on the sidelines.

The experience is almost the same for kids, is it wise to allow your child to do the same?

By exposing your child to multiple sports during the most critical times of childhood and preadolescent, you’re giving them the ability to appropriately develop all muscle groups and reduce the wear and tear on their body. From birth to early 20’s they are still learning and developing their bodies. When we expose them to the same thing for too long, they will eventually break. We’re developing a strong foundation and library of movement competencies.

The bonus of playing multiple sports is they’ll become well-rounded athletes. Many kids between 13-15 years old specialize too early. When this occurs, they will be ahead of the pack at that age, but when they enter their late teen years their peers will have caught up and potentially exceeded their ability. So you are timing their peak to happen later along with their development.

What can you do?

Enroll your child in one team sport and one individual sport.  The skills they develop from a team sport environment will be transferable to the individual sports environment, and vice versa.  Your child will develop the mental and life skills necessary to be successful inside and outside of sport.

If your child plays multiple sports they will have more confidence and be able to transfer that to multiple environments knowing they can perform well under any condition.

About the author

Trent Pirihi

Trent Pirihi is an Exercise Scientist and founder of Inner Athlete, a specialised strength and conditioning facility in Melbourne, Australia. With several years of experience in sports and conditioning, he has worked in Victoria and abroad in the USA. Trent worked with D1 Collegiate and International representative athletes at the University of Wisconsin. He has also played semi-professional Rugby League in Boston, MA and was a Strength and Conditioning Coach for the U/18 Victorian Lighting Bolt’s (Melbourne Storm feeder club). Trent can be contacted at info@inner-athlete.com.au

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5 rounds of

  • 5 inch worms
  • 10 push ups
  • 10 squats
  • 30s – 1min plank
  • 30s – 1min bridge