With childhood obesity rates on the radar, researchers are investigating different exercise strategies to help increase physical activity in kids. Whether children can and should participate in strength training has been a debatable issue. Recently, there has been a barrage of evidence claiming strength training for kids is both effective and safe. A recent study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found guided strength training increased muscular strength for both girls and boys and increased daily spontaneous physical activity for the boys.
Benefits of Strength Training
Strength training not only made the kids stronger, but it also pushed the boys to want to exercise on their own. This research helps bolster the benefits of a strength training program geared for children and adolescents. In 2001, the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) provided a thorough review on the risks and benefits of strength training for children. Strength training has been a common component of sports and physical fitness programs for adolescents and may include exercises such as free weights, weight machines, elastic tubing, or body weight.
Udo Meinhardt, M.D., from the PEZZ Center for Pediatric Endocrinology Zurich, and colleagues randomly assigned 102 10 to 14-year old school kids to participate in regular physical education programs or to participate twice weekly in supervised and guided strength training programs for 19 weeks.
Each child was measured for Physical Activity Energy Expenditure (PAEE), leg and arm strength, and body composition. Researchers assessed at baseline, after 19 weeks of training intervention, and after three months of washout. At baseline there were no significant differences between the groups. After a few months, the kids who did squats, crunches and bench presses were stronger than their classmates who conducted regular physical education. The boys who did the strength training had upped their weekly exercise by 10%. Gains in strength, muscle size, or power are commonly lost after 6 weeks if resistance training is stopped. Once the boys discontinued their mandated strength training program, they found the boys’ had gone back to normal.
Other benefits of strength training are improved sports performance, injury prevention, injury rehabilitation, and long-term health. In sports like football, where size and strength are desirable, strength-training programs help augment muscle enlargement or hypertrophy.
Strength Training Recommendations
AAP provides clear recommendations in handling a strength-training program for adolescents and children. First and foremost, before any exercise program can begin, a medical evaluation should be performed by a pediatrician. The pediatrician will make sure the child doesn’t have any pre-existing issues that could be further harmed by a new strength-training program. Next, proper resistance training techniques and safety precautions should be demonstrated and monitored by a trained adult.
They ask young children and preadolescents to avoid competitive weight-lifting, power-lifting, and maximal lifts until they reach physical and skeletal maturity. They must begin with little or no resistance exercises until proper technique is mastered. PRE or progressive resistive exercises means the child has successfully completed 8 to 15 repetitions with good form and can now increase the weight or resistance. Another good indicator of a well developed strength program is to insure all major muscle groups are challenged and brought through the complete range of motion.
Risks of Strength Training
From year to year the NEISS (National Electronic Surveillance System) estimates the number of injuries associated with strength training equipment. The data does not denote cause of injury nor does it specify whether athlete was recreational or competitive. Most of the injuries were muscle strains, with the lumbar back being the most commonly injured area. This statistic further emphasizes the need for proper technique and creating progressive resistive exercise programs.
Young athletes with hypertension may develop a temporary elevation of blood pressure due to the isometric demands of strength training. Also, there have been a small number of case reports of wrist and spine injuries from weight lifting in skeletally immature young adolescents. They are uncommon and preventable if proper lifting techniques are utilized. Despite the risk factors, the researchers conclude that strength training could prove to be a promising strategy in schools to help increase levels of physical activity.