Strength training is used to make the muscles stronger. It should not be confused with body building or weight lifting which are taboo for children. In body building, adults train with heavy weights to increase the bulk of their muscles to participate in competitions. Strength training is meant to increase the general fitness and efficiency of muscles. When children are taught the proper technique, supervised and guided, they can safely do strength training and will not injure their bones, joints and muscles.
In strength training bodyweight is used to build muscles. Machines, light weights or rubber resistant bands are used for this purpose. More effort has to be put in to move and muscles go stronger overtime. Tendons and ligaments attached to the bones and muscles are also strengthened as they move against resistance. The quantity of minerals such as calcium and phosphorus which are responsible for bone density also increases. This results in overall good health.
Before starting you should visit the doctor along with your child so that he can evaluate and declare the child fit for these exercises. You must make sure that your child does the exercises safely and does not suffer from muscle strains and lower back injury. These are common when proper technique is not used for lifting weights or too much is attempted at one go. For this a supervised routine suitable for the age of the child should be followed and the equipment used should be safe for children.
Children who are about seven years old can start with some muscular exercises of strength training. As soon as children start playing organised games like soccer and baseball, they can follow instructions and begin to be interested in getting stronger. Choose a trainer who has the experience of working with children and is able to design exercises which are age appropriate. He should be able to show the proper technique, how to use the equipment properly and point out the precautions to be taken.
To begin with activities like sit ups should be practiced. Then strength training exercises can be done but without using weights and resistance bands. When the technique has been mastered then a small amount of resistance can be added. As the muscles get stronger it can be increased gradually. The experienced trainer can determine what weights are suitable for a child.
Young children should focus on technique and not be overly concerned about adding bulk to their muscles which is possible only after puberty. An adult should always be on hand when children are using weights.
The muscles should be toned by using a low amount of weight repeatedly. This weight should be according to the size of the child. The child should be able to lift that weight at least eight to ten times. If he is unable to do so it means that the weight is too heavy for him. A small weight lifted many times is much better than lifting a heavy one a couple of times.
It is very important that precautions be taken and proper technique and suitable weight used to save muscles from injury. Also the cartilage near the bone end, called growth plates, will not be adversely affected when due safety measures are taken. This is where the growth of the bone occurs.
Children should be educated on the harmful effects of anabolic steroids. They might get misled by unscrupulous people who advocate their use to improve performance in sports and to build muscles. Besides being illegal they will cause grave harm to the growing child. Proper exercise, on the other hand, will endow the child with control and a sense of balance.
Some guidelines should be followed:
- The instructor should have prior experience with strength training of children. For every 10 children there should be one instructor.
- Stretching exercises and proper warming up should be done before and cooling down after strength training.
- Children should do their exercises under the supervision of the instructor in a well lit and ventilated room in which there are no obstructions.
- To begin with no weights or resistance bands should be used. Then start with light weights and gradually weights can be increased depending upon the increase in the strength of the muscles. Slowly the number of repetitions can be increased.
- In the beginning stress should be laid on the major muscles of the lower and the upper body. Just one set of five exercises with about ten to twelve repetitions should be done.
- After a few months types of exercises can be increased as well as sets of exercises but they should not exceed three.
- Training sessions should ideally be conducted on alternate days.
- For complete fitness aerobic exercises will complement strength training.