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Training our Youth

Resistance Training and Kids

For anyone that knows me, they know that one of my passions is kids. Namely, training them, taking them to several events I have held, and assisting them in general with their understanding of a healthy, active lifestyle.

Kids are just a lot of fun. I feel as adults, we can learn a lot from them. As an adult, training and working with kids can be refreshing. It reminds us of a time when we didn’t know work as work. Rather, we worked hard while playing games and having fun. It can be a nice enlightenment for us, as adults, to look back at those facts and remind ourselves that hard work can be fun.

Figure 1. Troy Paradiso and I acting a fool, Goofing off while shooting a parody video at the end of a hard training session

But that’s another topic for another time. What I want to briefly touch on is that of training children. Specifically, strength training and how we should approach it. This is a topic that has bounced up and down over the years. Unfortunately, it tends to have a lot of negative DOGMA attached to it. Thankfully, popular media and the medical profession have started to rethink their views on resistance training in youth populations (click link to see Mayo Clinic’s stance).

For kids, what are the benefits of strength training?

The above article does a pretty darn good job of covering the major points of training children; much of which I agree with 100%. I want to take a minute here and stress a few of those issues that I feel are the most important, build on what they touch and possibly kill some dogma along the way.

Issue #1: Resistance training will stunt my Childs growth

This is by far the largest reply you will get to any question concerning children. Is it possible? While the answer is yes, the likelihood of doing it is extremely rare when properly trained. Assuming the child is working with a qualified coach, he/she is more likely to get struck by lightening vs. injuring themselves while resistance training. The growth plates are a lot more indestructible than many put them up to be. One has to work long and hard to injure them to the point of inhibiting or changing growth. In fact, strength and resistance training will actually enhance bone density. It’s important to remember, the same load felt by one’s muscles is also felt by his/her bones. As a result of the physical demands placed on them, bones also adapt by growing stronger and denser. Thus, they’re able to handle the physical stress (ie-load) placed on them. These effects at an early age can pay huge dividends in years to come.

Kids Need to Train to Keep Healthy

Figure 2. Child helps dad work on the family car

Kids don’t work now as they did a few generations back. It used to be kids had hard chores. They helped ma and pa in the fields, milked cows, mowed lawns, played outside with sticks, swam in the pond outback, etc. Unfortunately, those days are almost extinct. First it was the adults that largely lost this aspect of life, moving to desk and service based jobs. Now, after my generation, the children largely have as well. Kids just don’t, or aren’t allowed to run around like we did. Therefore they need physical activity imparted on them in order to simply grow and be healthy.

Resistance training will offset this lack of natural activity. It will aid growth, help promote healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and fight off adult onset diabetes levels (I can’t even believe this is a problem now in children). Additionally, it will boost your child’s metabolism, help them maintain a healthy weight, improve their energy levels and build self-esteem.

What’s to argue? Do not the benefits in that one short paragraph greatly not outweigh any possible minute risks that one may associate with having adolescents resistance train?

Advice on Training Kids

Keep it sane

More on this all later, but for now, as it relates to the above, keep the intensity of work at a sane level. Kids can be worked hard sure, but they will naturally do so. They are kids, they like that stuff. Play and hard work is not work to them like it is to so many adults. They haven’t had activity ruined by a poor relationship with exercise

The main thing you can do for them to avoid injury is start slow. Show the importance of technique prior to allowing excessive loads. If need be, seek a qualified coach for proper instruction, supervise them, but don’t rule adolescents with a heavy hand. Let them do stuff; they will work hard. Just make sure your youth lifters aren’t going to kill themselves when they are training with equipment.

Children work hard and recover fast as long as they are given a healthy diet, proper rest, and an environment that allows them to succeed. Don’t over stress about possible bumps, bruises, falls and scrapes that a kid may acquire while training; they’ll heal…. Just think back to how fast you healed as a kid when you had an injury.

Don’t specialize too early!

There are so many people out there hanging the bank that their kids being the next NFL, NBA, or MLB star. Thus, they start a very specialized and stressful training regime at an early age. STOP. Get your own life! Don’t live your dream through your child because you couldn’t do make the cut yourself; It will ruin their life and possibly their relationship with healthy activity. Let kids be kids, let them try each and every sport their little heart desires. It will make them a more complete and better athlete in the end. In time they will find what they excel at and love.

Proof is in the pudding. By far, most of the best athletes to date are not the ones that were forced into one sport at an early age. Rather, they are the kids that were allowed to grow, to become a great all around athlete and choose the sport or activity they liked the best as a young adult. Look at the draft picks of varied sports that have become stars. Many of them were very talented multisport athletes even through the collegiate level prior to choosing a single sport to play professionally.

Lastly keep it, or, let them continue to have FUN

The number one thing you can do to ruin a kid’s view of training is force it on them at an early age. The last thing kids want at anytime is to be forced to do something. Their automatic reaction will be to rebel against you as soon as they can, and likely they will be left with a negative view of fitness for a LONG time, possibly even for life.

Instead I suggest you simply put them in the environment. Let kids come to the gym with you; let them see you loving every second of your workout. You don’t need to push it on them. Adolescents will come to it on their own terms if they simply see you enjoying it. Let them experiment and try new things on their own in the gym.

Be patient, wait for them to come to you with questions. Like I said above, just keep an eye out so they don’t kill themselves, but don’t force form on them to early. In reality kids are born with pretty damn good form, and could likely out squat us pound for pound if they simply put it in their mind to do so. Likely, they’ll do it naturally with much better form than us.

Show me better squat form then that in the above picture. You’d be hard pressed, and I guarantee you that wasn’t trained, it was simply ingrained. This kid is using his instincts and natural leverages to lift the object. It’s not until later in life that we get bound up, form goes to hell from varied over and under uses, and most of all we over-think things. Kids don’t have our limitations yet. They mindlessly do what comes easy and naturally to them.

There is really no need to push kids into a healthy lifestyle if they’ve simply been exposed to sports, training, and nutrition via your example. They will want, or even need, to take part. You won’t have to push them hard, they play hard. GO watch a group of kids play a pick up football game, or game of tag, or simply swimming/ playing. They go all day long, and hard, to point of exhaustion and beyond, laughing the whole way as long as they are having FUN! There is no need for you to push them if you just keep it fun.

Again, keep it fun!! Let them come to you, don’t go to them. Even when they do inevitably come to you keep it light hearted. Throw one maybe two things at them, but mainly let them explore what they have interest in, and walk away when they are done for that day. Rest assured they will come back for more if they continue to have fun. Better yet, if you’re going to do anything, make them stop when they are still having fun. That way they’ll have positive memories of it and want to do it again.

Make it a privilege to be able to train with you. Make them want to do it even more. A brief moment that they desire, as opposed to a chore they must do. Think of the first time you were allowed to mow the lawn, this was before mowing the lawn became a chore you had to do. Man, you so badly wanted to be allowed to mow the lawn. If you keep things fun your kids will always want to do it, don’t force it – make it FUN.

Summing it all up…

Let them try things in their own time, but lead by example…Put them in the atmosphere don’t push it on them…Watch them lead them, but let them fall down and pick themselves back up to try again.

And lastly, take a hard long look at them and try and regain some of that joy you had in your youth for plain old hard work and fun.

References (along with the above linked article)

1 Kraemer, William J. and Zatsiorky, Vladimir M. Science and Practice of Strength Training: Second Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1995.

2 Faigenbaum, A., Kraemer, W., Cahill, B., Chandler, J., Dziados, J., Elfrink, L., Forman, E., Gaudiose, M., Micheli, L., Nitka, M., and Robers, S. (1996). Youth Resistance Training: Position Statement Paper and Literature Review. Strength and Conditioning, 18(6), 62-75.

3 Pierce, Kyle C., Byrd, Ronald J., and Stone, Michael H. Position Statement Paper and Literature Review. USA Weightlifting.

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Written on September 15, 2010 by Phil Stevens
Last Updated: September 15, 2010

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Coach Phil Stevens is an accomplished strength athlete with considerable experience in Powerlifting, strongman competition, and highland games. Phil is the 2007 APA World Champion in the 242-pound class (total). He has held the APF 275-pound class raw National bench, squat, deadlift, and total records. Phil’s marquis lift was his 725-pound raw beltless deadlift, performed on February, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. He has been ranked in the “Top 10” in the deadlift across all national powerlifting federations. In addition, Phil has in a few short months moved to the A class in highland games with the goal of going Pro. His coaching services are avalable by clicking on the Strength Sport Consultation tab.
Professional Commitments:In addition to his coaching duties, he also serves as the California State Chair for the North American Highlander Association, as well as the founder of Lift For Hope an annual strength competition with proceeds donated to charity. He also runs his own printing business (business cards to t-shirts with everything in between) that can be found at www.bingcolorprint.com.