Because of its association with weightlifting and bodybuilding, many people incorrectly assume that strength training is not appropriate for kids. In fact, not only can strength training help kids simply look and feel better, but it can put them on a path to better health and wellness for their entire lives. Strength training can strengthen kids' bones, help promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels and help them maintain a healthy weight in addition to strengthening sport-specific muscle groups, according to the Mayo Clinic. Here's what you need to know to develop a safe and successful strength training program for your students:
What is the difference between strength training and weight lifting?
Weightlifting, bodybuilding and power lifting are competitive sports that drive participants to lift heavier weights or build larger muscles than other competitors. The competitive nature of these sports can lead to strain on young muscles, tendons and growth plates, especially if participants sacrifice safe form for pulling up extra weight. Strength training, on the other hand, leverages light resistance and controlled movements while teaching proper technique and safety. Ideally, kids can use their own body weight, resistance bands or medicine balls to perform these exercises.
Keys to smart student strength training programs
- Warm up and cool down: Although busy kids might be tempted to jump right into their exercises and work out until it's time to leave, they should leave time to start every session with five to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity, such as jogging or jumping rope, to prepare their muscles for vigorous activity.
- Lighten up: While children can safely lift adult-sized weights as long as they are light enough, one way to ensure they don't attempt anything too heavy is to use alternatives to free weights, such as body weight, resistance bands or medicine balls, to provide resistance.
- Focus on fundamentals: It is important to stress to children who are new to strength training that they need not focus on the amount of weight they are moving. Instead, take it slow and help them achieve perfect lifting form before moving on to the next tier of weights.