My wife and I are active, and we try to set a good example for our kids. I weight train three or four days a week in the garage in my house, and my son (12 years old) has recently expressed interest in doing it with me. I don't want to discourage his interest in exercise, but I have heard strength training can stunt children's growth. Can you tell me if that is true?
Sensible strength training does not appear to inhibit a child's growth, according to research done on the subject. In fact, some evidence suggests it can help lower a child's chances of being overweight and suffering injuries from sports or everyday play. Plus, if they enjoy it, strength training (like most exercise and activity) can help put children on the road to healthier habits for life.
Here are some guidelines that will help ensure safety and success:
* Children should do strength training only with experienced adult supervision.
* No maximum lift should ever be attempted. Instead, children should lift the least amount of resistance that will provide slight fatigue in the muscles upon the completion of 10 to 15 repetitions of any exercise.
* All exercises should be done slowly and with a full range of motion.
* Discourage competition or comparison with other children or adults. Strength training is very individual, and it is important that children learn to challenge themselves only within their own reasonable limits.
* Every strength-training workout should start with a warmup (easier versions of whatever exercises are planned for the workout) and finish with a cool-down (stretches for the muscle groups that were used during the workout).
* Increase the weight in small increments (1 to 3 pounds at most), and only when the child can do all repetitions with good form and technique.
* Children should do strength training only two or three times per week, with at least one day of rest in between workouts.
* Encourage children to incorporate other activities and play into their week. Ideally, the other activities would include cardiovascular and motor skill challenges that promote general fitness and heart health.
* Don't be discouraged if a child initially expresses interest in strength training and then loses interest. Experimentation with exercise and fitness is healthy, and children will not ultimately enjoy everything they try.
* Although boys may express interest in strength training more often than girls, girls can reap the same benefits and should follow the same guidelines.
Jay Blahnik, a Laguna Beach-based personal trainer and IDEA Health & Fitness Assn. spokesman, has appeared in more than 25 videos and is the author of "Full-Body Flexibility." He can be reached at jay @jayblahnik.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.