Child Strength Overview
In a study carried out by Statistics Canada comparing children's fitness to those over 20 years ago, it has been shown that children in 2007-2009 were 'taller, heavier, fatter and weaker than in 1981'. In particular grip strength (measured in kg) had decreased by approximately 10% in boys and girls aged 7 - 19 years of age. This story is repeating itself worldwide.
In the Louisiana (United States of America) the '2012 Louisiana Act 256' Report collated physical fitness information from great than 350 schools and 200, 000 children aged between 10 and 19. For child strength "Musculoskeletal Fitness" determined by push ups and curls, the data showed that 33% of children did not meet the Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ(tm)) standards. This is not just an issue in Louisiana, United States and is symptomatic of a worldwide issue.
Strength in children is just as important as it is in adults. This is not to say children should immediately be put on a weight training programme soon after birth, however it is now generally recognised that from the age of 8 or 9, some properly guided form of strength training is beneficial to children for many reasons since it:
- Decreases injury risk while playing sport
- Increases bone density
- Improves motor skills
- Makes a leaner body composition
- Helps in weight (BMI) control
- Improves sports performance
- Improves self esteem
- Better concentration
Depending on the child, both boys and girls from about aged 8 or 9 would benefit from some form of regular strength training. However, it should be noted that this should be done under the guidance of a suitably qualified instructor to ensure the child uses good form and uses appropriately light weights.
The emphasis should be on fun and varied exercises to keep the child's interest high. The goal should be on long term benefits and enjoyment. A frequency of 2 to 3 times per week is plenty but keep in mind children should be tutored at first until they understand how to maintain good posture and not injure themselves whilst growing. Avoid power lifting and intensive training.
If you choose to use dumbbells, supervise continually and increase weights extremely gradually and only then when the child can do 15 repetitions of a given weight easily. Use of push ups and pull ups using the child's own weight may be recommended by an instructor.
Remember, increasing the strength of your children is not just achieved by classic gym training. There are plenty of fun exercises that will build adequate strength without going through a formal weight training programme. Simple exercises like jumping and skipping increase leg strength, wheelbarrow races can help build core strength etc. For a list of fun, potential exercises, see our article 'CHILD STRENGTH EXERCISES'
It goes without saying that good nutrition, hydration, rest days between exercises and plenty of sleep are just as important as the strength training itself.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) fully support supervised strength training for children of the above age as long as there are no repetitive heavy lifts.
The following information summarises the topic of strength in children:
- Children in many countries are becoming fatter and weaker.
- Strength training has major physical and mental health benefits for children of both sexes from about the age of 8 onwards
- Focus on enjoyment and varied activities with a qualified coach.
- Avoid heavy weights. The focus must be on technique and good form.
- Combine with good sleep, healthy nutrition, frequent hydration and rest days.