Is it safe for kids to lift weights?

A couple years ago we changed our minimum age for kids to come to the gym.  It was solely based on insurance and liability.  For years we could only permit youth aged 12 and 13 to use the gym while supervised by an adult.  Then when we lowered it to 9 it raised some eye brows.  I would field the same question over and over again, “Is it safe for kids to lift weight at such a young age?”  That was usually followed by the comment, “I heard it could stunt their growth.”

I would ask them, “where did you hear that?”  and nobody could recall the source.  But clearly, the myth has made parents really nervous about getting their kids involved with any kind of strength training that involved weights which is really unfortunate because the benefits of a supervised and well-designed program for kids are numerous.

A 2009 study by Dahab KS et Al entitled, “Strength Training in Children and Adolescents: Raising the Bar for Young Athletes?” reviewed recent published research and scholarly articles to clarify the myths and to outline recommendations when considering a strength training program for kids.  They concluded that after reviewing over 40 relevant studies, “children can improve strength by 30% to 50% after just 8 to 12 weeks of a well-designed strength training program. Youth need to continue to train at least 2 times per week to maintain strength. The case reports of injuries related to strength training, including epiphyseal plate fractures and lower back injuries, are primarily attributed to the misuse of equipment, inappropriate weight, improper technique, or lack of qualified adult supervision.”

Looking at the last sentence, I believe that the first three attributes to injury can be eliminated by addressing the last one… lack of qualified adult supervision.  Did you know that the Personal Training industry is not regulated?  Well, it’s not.  Anyone can take an online course and call themselves a trainer.  I have researched most of the more credible certifying bodies and there is only one that I would consider recommending that focuses on youth fitness.  Why is this important?

In the study “Strength training effects in prepubescent boys.” Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1990;22:605-614 by Ramsay JA, Blimkie CJ, Smith K, et al. they concluded that pre-pubescent children gain strength through neural adaptations, not muscle hypertrophy.  That means you can’t take an adult training program and water it down for kids.  Kids get stronger by learning to move more efficiently after being taught how to move properly and then you can start adding a load.  Most trainers and coaches that I have seen work with kids, either don’t know this or don’t understand it.  You don’t know what you don’t know so the word “qualified” should mean that the person working with kids should know how kids are different and the above-mentioned injuries would be avoided.

I know that there are a lot of kids that don’t play organized sports and most parents tend to look at the benefits of strength training as it pertains to either injury prevention or furthering their success in sports.  However, there is a whole world of benefit that is universal to every kid that is involved in regular physical activity even if it’s not a sport.  Think of strength training as a physical activity.  In addition to the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day, the World Health Organization states that “vigorous-intensity activities should be incorporated, including those that strengthen muscle and bone, at least 3 times per week.”  This doesn’t mean that kids need to be lifting weights in some sort of circuit at a gym but rather incorporating exercises that build muscle and strengthen bones into games or activities that involve running, jumping and throwing.

It gets even better!  Physical benefits aside, there are a ton of other benefits that can be directly correlated to regular physical activity in children with cognitive performance and academic achievement being one of the most significant.  A 2011 study entitled, The Effects of Physical Activity and Physical Fitness on Children’s Achievement and Cognitive Outcomes by Fedewa and Ahn looked at 59 published papers between 1947 and 2009. Through a comprehensive analysis of the data the results indicated, “a significant and positive effect of physical activity on children’s achievement and cognitive outcomes, with aerobic exercise having the greatest effect.”  Moreover, this study revealed that the strongest relationships were found between aerobic fitness and achievement in mathematics, followed by IQ and reading performance.  The most significant gains in academic performance were found when the physical activity was performed in smaller groups of less than 10 children.  Interestingly, individualized activity interventions showed no impact on cognitive outcomes or academic achievement.

So, what’s the point of this post??  A few weeks ago this very discussion came up on talk radio (yes I listen to talk radio) when a new study around childhood obesity was released.  Despite the fact it was agreed by all involved in the conversation that kids could use more physical activity, it was apparent by callers that there are not a lot of programs for kids that aren’t organized sports.  Then the light bulb went on!

Small Group Boot Camp for Kids that is affordably priced and at convenient times. Taking kids to a gym is probably the last thing that comes to mind even if the parents happen to go to a gym. But if it’s to participate in a program organized specifically for kids, it makes perfect sense.   So, my trainers and I have put our collective heads together and starting on Tuesday July 10th we will be starting a 4-week Boot Camp for Kids. The group size will be limited to 8 and there will be 2 groups; 9-11years and 12-13 years.  The 9-11yr group will start at 7:00pm and run for 30 min sessions and the 12-13 group will start at 7:45pm and run for 45-minute sessions.  All sessions will run on Tuesday evenings for 4 consecutive weeks.

Special Introductory Pricing:

9-11 year group – 4 sessions $52 tax included

12-13 year group – 4 sessions $60 tax include

To register, please download and complete the attached Informed Consent and bring it in to the gym.  Download the Consent form here:  Guardian and Informed Consent