Weight Training for Kids – Myths Busted !!!
When we think of kids, we think of spontaneous play and undiminished energy levels. We think of hide-and-seek and hopscotch, treasure hunts and tag sessions. But what we do not usually associate with childhood is structured weight training workouts!
In our traditional systems of thought, children are not expected to, sometimes even advised not to ‘work out,’ i.e., do specific structured exercise routines. So, is weight training really harmful to kids? This article explores what weight training for kids really means, why it is misunderstood, and how it is actually beneficial.
If obesity has become one of the biggest lifestyle diseases of today’s age, its counterpart Childhood Obesity is a far more terrible axe that hangs over our heads. Here are some scary figures – by 2025, India will have over 17 million obese children and will stand 2nd among 184 countries when it comes to childhood obesity! Childhood Obesity is one of the major issues faced by parents and kids today. We all know what “obesity” means, but when it comes to kids there are a lot of things we have to take into account additionally.
Some basic facts about children’s lifestyle these days –
- Almost 1 out of every 5 children is overweight.
- Children spend 4-5 hours every day doing stationary work such as watching TV, working on laptops, or playing video games.
- Obese children are likely to miss school more often and may be bullied or ridiculed by their peers.
- Stress causes similar reactions in children as in adults. Eating disorders like binge eating, or fad dieting concepts like eating only lettuce and cabbage, or in some extreme cases depression – these are all high-risk trends that have been observed in children in today’s world. Lack of sound sleep/adequate rest can also cause weight issues.
- There is a 70% risk factor for developing cardiovascular diseases like high cholesterol or high blood pressure at a later age.
- There is a 52% increased risk of a new diagnosis of asthma.
- 45% of children diagnosed with diabetes have Type 2 due to obesity.
- Medical costs associated with treating preventable obesity-related diseases are estimated to increase by 25% in the coming years.
War against Childhood Obesity – how to prepare ourselves and our children
A Healthy Diet itself is not enough for a healthy body and mind. Exercise is extremely important too.
The first thing is to open our eyes to the realities. Today, many countries like USA, Russia, China, and Australia have 16-year-olds winning medals at world-level competitions in sports and athletics. That’s because most of these kids have already got over a decade of experience behind them in their particular sport, as their training starts as early as 6 years of age. Clearly, they believe in the need for something more than just spontaneous play!
The mindset against ‘weight training’ for kids
A 1970s study published in Japan concluded that child labourers have short stature because they lift heavy weights day in and day out. There are many research findings, anecdotes, and myths about training with weights that are responsible for shaping our thoughts (and fears too), especially giving rise to the opinion that weight training is harmful to children. Even doctors and scientists in the past have advanced the belief that weight training in children will result in their short stature. However, years of practical research and studies conducted with the support of almost all major streams of sports medicine and well-known sports science institutes, it has been conclusively proved that weight training is not only safe for children but in fact also extremely beneficial too!
Benefits of Weight Training for Children
Before we proceed, it is very important to distinguish between two generally confused terms – Weight Training (also known as Strength Training) and Weight Lifting.
Weight training or strength training is a progressive means of exercising with appropriate resistance, which you gradually increase as the musculoskeletal system becomes stronger. You can use a variety of equipment for strength training like barbells, dumbbells, elastic bands, machines, medicine ball, own body weight etc.
Conversely, weightlifting is a sport in which the participant works with heavy barbells and attempts to lift maximum weight in competitive events. It consists of explosive movements like clean and jerk and the snatch.
To clear all doubts, therefore, let me state outright that in this article, we are concerned with weight training for kids, not weightlifting for kids.
Here are the several ways in which weight training during childhood can bring tremendous benefits during their growing years, and even later:
- Progressive resistance exercise makes bones strong and resistant to injury. Most of the bone mass is acquired during our youth. This is the ideal time to enhance musculoskeletal strength and structure through properly designed resistance training programs.
- Strength training at this age is beneficial for young girls to reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life.
- It’s also important to note that a lot of young girls are attaining puberty before teenage. This is called “Precocious Puberty “and can be avoided in most cases if the child is not obese.
- Another common myth is that children do not have sufficient testosterone to gain strength apart from normal growth and maturation. This is a wrong assumption. Children may have low levels of testosterone to build large muscles, but the purpose of weight training in children is to develop muscle strength not bulk. A research found that children increased muscle strength by 74% within 2 months of resistance training.
- It is also a well known fact that exercising helps the minds to relax and improves the concentration power.
- Regular exercising induces a good sleep which is very essential for a child to grow and remain healthy.
Does Weight training hamper ‘Ossification’ and bone development in children?
Many doctors argue that “Ossification of the bones” will get hampered if a child is does weight training. So, let’s have a look at the mechanism of bone growth and development in humans and how physical exercise can influence it.
Long bones in children are very different in their structure compared to the long bones in adults. The adult bone has two main parts: “Diaphysis” (the long midsection of the bone) and “Epiphysis” (the rounded end on both sides of the long bone). In growing children, there is a third part between epiphysis and diaphysis called “Epiphyseal plate.” Also referred to as Physis or the growth plate, epiphyseal plate is a cartilage constantly producing new cells called chondrocytes which later ossify – meaning they become part of the long bone.
The growth plates ossify completely after reaching maturity, which differs from individual to individual and takes place roughly between 19 and 21 years of age. Complete ossification means that the cartilage becomes part of the bone and only a thin line remains at the border of the growth plate and epiphysis, called Epiphyseal line.
But what happens if the Epiphyseal plate gets injured i.e. broken, crushed, or displaced? The possibility of epiphyseal plate injury is exactly the reason why some doctors discourage heavy exercise in children and teenagers. Epiphyseal plates can get damaged in training-related accidents. Such accidents may be not common but they definitely do exist. But the point to note is, that every accident that can cause broken bones can also cause growth plate injury. So from this perspective, skiing, roller skating, or even climbing trees are just as dangerous an activity as weight lifting!
Maintaining Caution to Prevent Injuries:
Exercising with caution is paramount. Simple measures will ensure that your child is able to do his exercises easily and without injuring themself:
- Always ensure that the instructor is well trained and should have a small group of children to control.
- Also, make sure that the child is old enough to understand all the instructions and follow them accurately.
- Children should always start with a good warm up and end with stretching just like adults.
- Absolutely no heavy weights – only those that a child can lift and hold for 5-8 reps should be allowed. Weights should be increased very gradually.
- 3-4 times a week is more than enough to train young children as they are mostly active in some sort of other sports or physical activity.
If done properly, strength training can not only increase your child’s muscle strength and endurance and strengthen the bones, but also help promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels as they mature into youth and adulthood.
Exercising from an early age is a habit which lasts a lifetime. It not only introduces children to the concept of goal setting and teamwork, but also develops healthy habits and helps inculcating the values of good nutrition and fitness. Above all, it is an excellent way of boosting self-confidence in children.
The Parents’ Role
By following a simple structured diet and encouraging more physical activity, the incidence of childhood obesity can be completely eradicated. The best way is to lead by example. If as parents, we control our eating/drinking habits and engage in more physical activity with our children, be it a common sport or even if it just a game of tag in your backyard, it will surely help. Small measures like talking to the kids about how exercising will help them in achieving better concentration and focus in their school work, or even simple things like parking the car further down and making them walk little more, or sending them out to take the dog for a walk, or sending them on errands to nearby shops instead ordering it over the phone – all these small thoughtful things can also help. Instead of going to the mall go to a trampoline park or a rock climbing arena instead. You can plan a nice picnic lunch and a short hike on holidays, which will help everyone bond together as a family. The idea is to start small and work your way up.
Early prevention is the need of the hour if we want to avoid this coming generation from falling prey to heart ailments, hypertension, and diabetic complications. By setting a good example, you will not only teach your child the value of physical fitness but also build a lifelong bond with healthy lifestyle habits. After all, that’s what all parents want – for their children to be happy healthy individuals!
Article Credits – Reshma Shekatkar Batra (Guest)
- Blaise A. Nemeth, MD, MS, spokesperson for the American Academy of Paediatrics and an associate professor in the department of orthopaedics and rehabilitation at the American Family Children’s Hospital, University of Wisconsin.
- Kathleen Bethin, MD, PhD, clinical associate professor of paediatrics at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University of Buffalo.
- Healthychildren.org: “Energy Out: Daily Physical Activity Recommendations.”
- (Using data prepared by the Global Burden of Disease collaborative for 2000 and 2013)
- Times of India .Health News. Article by Kalpana Sharma, TNN | Nov 25, 2016.
- Healthline news. The Keto Diet Is Gaining Popularity, but Is It Safe?
- Article by Flt. Lieutenant & Fitness trainer- Akshay Chopra.
- Youth resistance training: updated position statement paper from the national strength and conditioning association. By – Faigenbaum AD1, Kraemer WJ, Blimkie CJ, Jeffreys I, Micheli LJ, Nitka M, Rowland TW.