Strength training is a vital type of physical activity that helps our muscles and bones grow stronger. Bone mass builds tremendously during childhood, and strength training is a great way to ensure children’s bones grow strong. Once children are old enough to play organized sports (usually around 7-8 years old), they can start participating in strength training. Children should participate in bone and muscle strengthening activities at least 2 days per week on nonconsecutive days for 20-30 minutes each session. And this time counts towards their 60 minutes of daily physical activity! Whether children use free weights, resistance bands, or their own body weight, they can safely strength train with appropriate adult supervision.
Since everyone’s body is different, there is no one strength training program that works for everyone. Typically, completing 1-3 sets (groups of repetitions with short rest periods in between) of 6-15 repetitions (the number of times you complete an exercise during a set) is appropriate for each exercise. Learn the proper form for each exercise and teach it to your children before they perform an exercise. Try and incorporate exercises for all major muscle groups: front and back of arms, shoulders, chest and upper back, abdominals, sides of torso (obliques), lower back, front and back of thighs, calf muscles, and buttocks.
Warm-up and cool-down stretches help prevent injury, so don’t forget to stretch for about 10 minutes before and after exercising. Also, have children rest 1-3 minutes in between sets. Children can aim to complete 6-8 exercises per training session. Try exercises from the following list to get started!
Body Weight Exercises
Resistance Band Exercises
- Pec fly
- Lat pull down
- Single arm shoulder press
- Side bend
- Upright row
To learn how to perform these exercises, visit http://lancaster.unl.edu/nep/ResistanceBandWorkout.pdf.
Free Weight Exercises
- Bent-over row
- Bicep curl
- Calf raise
- Chest press
- Reverse fly
For more exercises and how-to videos, check out this link: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/strength-training/art-20046031
So how can children too young for strength training build muscles? Infants’ time spent in bouncy seats and other items that restrict movement should be limited. Instead, they should have toys that encourage them to move and have “tummy” time. Once children can crawl & walk, dedicate time every day for active play. Also, swinging and climbing on appropriate playground equipment, hopscotch, skipping, and jumping are great for children to build strength.
May is National Osteoporosis Month. Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones are weak and break easily (1). While osteoporosis usually affects older adults, it’s important for children to build strong bones when they’re young to prevent osteoporosis when they get older. In fact, most people’s bone growth peaks between ages 20 and 30, so childhood is a critical time to make sure children are building strong bones by playing, strength training, and getting enough calcium and vitamin D. To learn more about how to help your children build strong bones, visit http://m.kidshealth.org/en/parents/strong-bones.html.
Talk to your child’s pediatrician about getting started with strength training!