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Health & Parenting

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New Strength Training Advice for Kids

Get a Checkup First, Don't Overdo It, and Don't Start Before Age 7, Says American Academy of Pediatrics
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 7, 2008 -- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued revised guidelines on strength training for children and teens.

Teri McCambridge, MD, chair of the AAP's Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, says the revisions include more specific recommendations about kids and teens who need further medical evaluation prior to being cleared for strength training.

"The main groups include children with a prior history of childhood cancers, uncontrolled hypertension [high blood pressure], and congenital heart defects," McCambridge tells WebMD in an email.

The revised guidelines also include a chart describing the different certifications for strength trainers and the requirements required to get the certifications. "We thought this was important because many health clubs are designing strength training programs for children and we wanted parents to be comfortable with their credentials," says McCambridge.

Overall, "we continued to emphasize that although strength training is safe and effective in children and preadolescents, we continue to recommend playing sports as the best way to improve skills and have fun," says McCambridge.

Here are other highlights from the guidelines, published in April's edition of Pediatrics:

  • Don't start before kids are 7-8 years old. Kids' balance and posture don't mature until then.
  • Before starting strength training, kids and teens should get a medical checkup.
  • Follow proper techniques, with strict supervision by a qualified instructor.
  • Warm up for 10-15 minutes.
  • Strength-train for at least 20-30 minutes, then cool down for 10-15 minutes.
  • Address all major muscle groups, including the core muscles
  • Start with light weights and focus on technique.
  • Use control; don't slam the weights up and down.
  • Many strength-training machines are designed for adults; free weights may be a better option for kids.
  • Don't strength-train the same muscles every day. Two to three times per week is enough; more sessions may lead to injury.
  • When the child or teen can do 8-15 repetitions easily, add weight in 10% increments.

The AAP also recommends aerobic exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate fluid intake.

Consistency counts, too. It takes at least eight weeks for strength training to start showing results, and those results are lost about six weeks after quitting strength training, according to the AAP.

The AAP doesn't support Olympic weight lifting in kids and teens who are still growing, though McCambridge and colleagues note several studies showing it to be safe.

Of course, the AAP condemns using anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances.

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