The Youth Movement: Ingraining Good Fitness Habits for Healthy Kids
When can children begin strength training?
As the owner of a health club and the father of two boys, fellow parents frequently ask me what they can do to help build good fitness habits in their children. Often, their desire is to counter the sedentary nature of these young players of Fortnite (something with which I’m personally quite familiar). Or perhaps parents are looking to help their student athletes get a leg up in competitive travel teams and high school sports. Either way, at nearly every parent event I attend, invariably someone will approach me and ask a simple question: “When is it safe for children to start strength training?”
Strength training can include weights, resistance bands, and body weight exercises. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children as young as seven can safely embark on strength training. While this seems quite young for parents who are picturing children on a bench press, I quickly dispel this image from their minds and replace it with body weight exercises including push-ups, sit-ups, handstands, squats, and pull-ups. Children who engage their body weight in exercises on a regular basis will see improvement in cardiovascular fitness, bone density, and mental health, much as they would with any other physical activity or sports.
As with anything, fundamentals are key. Good form is the foundation in which strength training must be rooted. Tosha Pastorek, a personal trainer at FitMe Wellness with advanced certifications in Olympic Strength Training and a mother of two explains, “Kids start out with great form. They squat naturally with natural mobility. They don’t have any bad habits yet. You stick with movements and activities that are fun. Then slowly add the weight, depending upon their age. They’re already used to taking direction from their teachers. As personal trainers, we’re here to make sure they reach their full potential, safely.”
Personally, my two boys (ages 13 and 10), exercise weekly with Josh Hunt, a trainer at FitMe Wellness. Josh frequently works with them on developing core strength and hand eye coordination. He’s also introduced them to strength training, starting them off by using their body weight or dumb bells weighing under five pounds. The goal of working with light weights is to focus on balance and posture control. “Working with Greg’s kids is a total blast, and I work hard to make it continuously fun for them. We play games and talk about music and video games as we’re exercising. The goal is that while they’re working on building strength, stamina, and coordination, that they’re first and foremost having fun so that they want to come back every week excited about our session.”
As children become teens and leaving for college comes into focus, the training begins to shift to advancing in their chosen competitive sport. However, too much of a good thing can be devastating with youth strength training. Injury can result from overuse. Tosha’s client, Colin Mendoza, is the Captain of Boylan’s varsity soccer team. She must consider the hours Colin spends running and sprinting, the effect that this has on his knees, and ensure that the strength training program she creates for him isn’t putting more stress on his already stressed joints. “Colin is an endurance athlete. So we focus on building strength and power. And we’re building stability in his lower body. Colin has matured and progressed to the point where he’s worked up to snatching 30-pound dumbbells, 135-pound hex-bar deadlifts (55 reps), and sprints on the Concept 2 rower. At 17, there’s really nothing at the club that he cannot do safely under my watchful eye.”
In working with Tosha, Colin has built a solid foundation in how to safely workout that he can take on to college and into adulthood. My younger boys are equating fitness with fun, relishing in having an adult mentor in Josh. At the end of the day, this really is the goal with introducing children to strength training. Building a healthy body on a foundation of safety, knowledge, and joy.