How early is too early? If you’re talking Saturday mornings, I’d peg it about 7 a.m. Before that, I’d rather be snoozing.
When it comes to kids hitting the weights, however, there are reasons to be cautious. Improper weight training by children can damage soft tissues. Done correctly, however, there’s nothing’s wrong with strength training for kids. It has benefits inside and out of sports, if they follow proper guidelines.
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For younger children who aren't yet in high school, strength training doesn’t have to include weights, and USA Football’s Coaching OnDemand has plenty of good examples of how to use body weight and resistance to build muscle mass, strength and endurance. Old standbys such as push-ups, pull-ups and bear crawls are effective for building a solid, muscular foundation in younger athletes.
Speaking of a foundation, a strong core is vital. Exercises such as planks, crunches and twists are perfect. Use a 5- to 8-pound medicine ball for sit-up throws.
Building a strong core and awareness of its importance serves young athletes well now and as their athletic career advances. Most movements flow through the core, delivering power from the hips and legs to the upper body.
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Sticking to proper form is paramount to prevent injuries, and there's no need for heavy lifting until children reach the age where their skeletal, muscular and nervous systems are sufficiently developed to benefit from it. Talk to a sports medicine specialist to determine when it’s safe for your child.
Explosive, compound movements such as clean and jerk and power cleans are the staple of many weight training programs. Avoid these types of workouts in young athletes’ strength and conditioning programs. Their bodies just aren’t ready for them yet.
The same holds true for another training principle that unlocks massive muscle growth in more mature lifters: lifting to failure. This technique aimed at maximizing strength and building muscle mass is counterproductive in younger kids. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends staying below a weight that allows the young lifter to complete at least eight repetitions with good form.
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The bottom line? Don’t rush grade school or junior high athletes into weight training. There's plenty of time for that once their bodies are ready. Granted, some kids mature faster than others, so talk to a medical professional to find out when your child is ready.
Steve Faber is a freelance writer and content strategist who’s been marketing online since a stint with a high profile e-commerce start-up during the first Internet boom. His firm, Most Pixels Marketing, works with organizations to create content and formulate effective content strategies to get noticed, engage customers and drive sales. Catch him at www.mostpixels.com.
This is an updated version of a blog that originally published March 5, 2015.