More than a third of kids today carry around too many extra pounds. So, lots of parents want to do everything they can to protect their children from weight-linked conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. One way to keep kids in shape is to follow the government's 60-minutes-a-day aerobic exercise guideline.
Strength training is another way to build fitter, leaner young bodies. You don't need to turn your elementary schooler into a pint-sized bodybuilder, though.
"Start with light free weights, resistance bands, or body weight," says Beth Jordan, an American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer. Kids can begin these activities at 7 or 8 years old, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.
Strength training two or three times a week builds muscle, zaps fat, strengthens bones, and improves children's motor skills, research finds. The key is to set up a program that's safe.
If your child is generally healthy, a well-designed basic strength-training program poses few risks. Muscle strains are the most common strength-training injuries among children, the AAP says. But with good supervision and technique, such injuries are less common than in other sports and even at recess.
Try these tips to get your child started:
Get guidance. Hire a certified personal trainer or coach to make a weight-training program and oversee the first few sessions, offering feedback on your child's form and technique. The International Youth Conditioning Association has a database of trainers for kids on its website. The American Council on Exercise also has an online "find a pro" tool and offers a "youth fitness" certification. Check to make sure your coach has youth-specific training and experience.
Start empty-handed. "The key to making any workout program successful and safe is to start without any tools and learn proper form," Jordan says. Once your child knows the movements, introduce 1- to 5-pound weights. Gradually increase the weight when she can easily do 10 to 15 reps. Even when your child already knows the moves, stick close by. "Children should always have adult supervision to ensure safety," Jordan says.
Don't over-train. Lighter weights are always better. "Using weights that are too heavy for a child can lead to injury such as a strain or sprain on muscles, tendons, or ligaments," Jordan says. You can tell the weights are too heavy if your child seems to strain while lifting them, or if he's overly sore or tired after workouts.
Build a stronger diet. "Healthy nutritional choices will have a huge positive impact on a child's wellness goals," she says. A mix of lean proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats will help your child stick to an appropriate weight and strengthen muscle.