RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Strength training and conditioning may seem to be the realm of ripped bodybuilders, but a national sports group has just recommended that kids get in on the action, too. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) has just published new guidelines for strength training and conditioning for children, noting that fears over safety shouldn't prevent parents from getting kids involved in an activity that can build bones, boost cardiovascular health, and lead to lifelong healthy exercise behaviors.
THE DETAILS: Strength training and conditioning for children have always been approached with some hesitation, due to the risk of injury, but pediatricians and other child health professionals have always stuck by their recommendation that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. However, "strength training is safe," says lead author Avery Faigenbaum, EdD, professor in the department of health and exercise science at The College of New Jersey, "and increasing strength training can enhance sport performance, reduce sport-related injuries, and enhance bone density. It also has cardio benefits, especially for overweight boys and girls."
In the position statement, Faigenbaum writes that children should participate in two or three strength-training sessions per week on nonconsecutive days. The exercises aren't limited to lifting weights, but can include resistance exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, squats, and other calisthenics too. He notes that in addition to the benefits listed above, strength training and conditioning for children can improve psychosocial health and well-being and help them develop healthy exercise habits that will extend into adolescence and adulthood.
WHAT IT MEANS: Getting kids started with resistance training doesn’t have to go much farther than the playground, says Faigenbaum. "The activities kids perform on the playground—jumping, skipping, pulling, pushing—more closely resemble resistance training than anything else," he says. "It's just a matter of taking it from the playground into some structured program with quality instruction."
Quality instruction is key, he adds. "I don't want to be flippant," Faigenbaum says. "There is a risk of injury, just as there is with Rollerblading, skiing, and football. But you're not going to give your kid a pair of skis and say, 'the black diamond is over there.'" He notes that kids can get involved in some pretty catastrophic accidents when lifting weights unsupervised. "But when they're supervised, we just don't see those injuries." Nevertheless, he adds, "Parents often ask me what's the riskiest activity their kids could get involved in, and I tell them, watching television." According to the guidelines, kids are ready to try strength training as soon as they're ready to play organized sports; typically, 7 to 8 years old.
Finding the best program to get your kid off the couch can be difficult, but here are a few key qualities of a good kiddie personal trainer: