Growing up, I did a lot of outdoor chores to help my family. Whether it was mowing the lawn, shovelling snow, or stacking firewood, my parents gave me lots of opportunity to build strength (even if they didn’t know it). These tasks may not be seen as traditional resistance training exercises, but they definitely build strength and perhaps even some character.
Resistance training is any type of activity that strengthens your muscles. Lifting heavy boxes, lifting weights at the gym, or doing body weight exercises are all examples of resistance training.
You may have heard that kids shouldn’t do resistance training for fear of stunting growth, damaging bones or increasing risk of injury. Truth is, it can actually be beneficial for kids and youth when done properly. Resistance training can also reduce the risk of sporting injuries, foster a lifelong habit of physical activity, and be fun!
Many kids participate in organized sports from a young age (think softball, soccer, and hockey). The approach to resistance training is, in a way, very similar to training that happens in these sports; it involves warming up and cooling down, progression of training, and supervision or coaching.
Here are a few things to keep in mind for safe and beneficial resistance training for kids:
- Choose a qualified instructor with experience, especially with children and youth. Look for someone with a National Strength and Conditioning Association certification.
- There should always be a warm-up with 5-10 minutes of aerobic exercise.
- Clear and simple instructions and movement demonstrations should be given to make sure participants understand how to do the exercises properly.
- The focus should be on proper technique using light weights or body weight to start with.
- Once proper technique is understood and shown, participants can do 1-3 sets (a set is a series of repeated movements) of 6-15 repetitions (a repetition is doing the movement once) of upper and lower body exercises.
- Training sessions should be 2-3 days per week and not back-to-back (for example: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays).
- As strength improves, resistance or weight can be increased in small steps of 5-10 per cent.
- After a training session, there should always be a cool down with 5-10 minutes of aerobic exercise. This is also a good time to do some stretching.
Resistance training doesn’t have to be done in a gym or weight room. Someone pulling themselves up on the monkey bars is basically doing a chin-up. Or in my case, lifting firewood was like doing squats. In a properly supervised and supportive environment, resistance training is a good way kids (or anyone!) can keep their bones and muscles strong.