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Is Weight Training Safe for Kids?

Experts say weight training is safe for healthy children -- with some precautions.

What's needed before kids start weight training?

The data on whether strength training improves children's sports performance is inconsistent, McCambridge says.

Pillarella's 13-year-old son, Joe, says weight training several times per week at home or at a gym has helped him as an athlete. "In baseball, it made my swing stronger," he tells WebMD.

Some research suggests that "prehabilitation" -- strength training that targets body areas often hit by overuse injuries -- may reduce injuries in teens. But it's unclear if the same benefit applies to preteen athletes.

There is no evidence that strength training can reduce ''catastrophic" youth sports injuries -- the kind that could bench a young player for a season or longer, according to the AAP.

What other benefits are there from children's weight training?

Pillarella says she's seen weight training improving children's posture, body composition, and self-image.

In the teen program she directs, the kids are asked when they come in, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel about your body?" Over time, with weight training, the scores improve. "We can see over time, their self-esteem numbers will go up," Pillarella says.

Can overweight kids weight train?

Yes, if their doctor approves. "In obese kids, it's actually a good activity," McCambridge says. It can improve their cholesterol levels, build strength, and perhaps help them lose weight.

And, for teens and pre-teen who aren't into sports, weight training may evolve into a lifelong exercise, McCambridge says.

Of course, the same rules about supervision and safety apply, regardless of the child's size.

Kids and Strength Training: Getting Started

Joe Pillarella says he would advise other teens to take it slowly when they start weight training. "Start off light and slowly increase your weight as your body allows you to," he says.

Here are the AAP's tips for any kind of strength training:

  • Take it easy. At first, there should be ''no load," or no resistance, while learning the exercise. Add weight in increments of 10% only after 8 to 15 repetitions can be done.
  • Focus on technique. It's better to do the exercise correctly than to do more repetitions or to take on more resistance.
  • Ensure proper supervision and safety. The AAP says instructors or personal trainers should be certified and should have specific qualifications in pediatric strength training.
  • Don't lift weights rapidly or do "explosive" lifting. The AAP discourages power lifting and body building until someone reaches physical and skeletal maturity.
  • Strengthen all major muscle groups, including the core muscles.
  • Warm up and cool down. Devote 10-15 minutes to your warm up and another 10-15 minutes to cool down after strength training.
  • Remember, strength training is just one part of fitness. Don't overlook aerobic conditioning. And be sure to stay properly hydrated and eat a nutritious diet to help muscles recover.

 

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Reviewed on February 03, 2010

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