Bigger, faster, stronger
Properly supervised strength training can help children both short-term and long-term, providing the foundation for an active, healthy life, said Paul Stricker, MD, FAAP, in his session "Bigger, faster, stronger: Myths and realities of strength training in children" presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2016 National Conference.
A few years ago, physicians were very cautious about recommending strength training for children—reserving it for highly trained athletes with specific goals. Now, said Stricker, it’s shown that incorporating strength training, with supervision, improves not only sport-specific skills, but also helps reduce injuries and raise overall fitness levels. Pediatricians can be more confident in recommending that children participate in some type of strengthening program that is appropriate for their age and needs, with strict supervision and proper technique.
To that end, the new concept of training age helps determine what's appropriate for each child. Rather than pronouncing certain activities suitable or unsuitable for specific numerical ages, Stricker explained, this concept suggests that a 12-year-old with 6 years of training experience can undertake a much more progressive program than one with a year of basic sports activity under his or her belt.
Pediatricians also may recommend strength training exercise much more frequently than they presently do for overweight children. Telling them to go jogging is not the most user-friendly first step. A well-designed strengthening program often provides a more manageable path toward boosting their metabolism and seeing quick results.
Gone are the concerns for growth-plate injuries, or the possibility of children accidentally dropping weights on their feet. Exercise clearly has risks, Stricker pointed out, but research has shown repeatedly that children can gain significant strength, with great safety, while on a consistent and supervised program. Rather than proving strength training safe for kids, research has shifted toward documenting how strength training exercise boosts performance, builds natural athletic skills, reduces injuries, and points children toward a lifetime of activity.
Although pediatricians generally lack the background to recommend specific training programs, Stricker said they now can recommend based on the research that children start a strengthening program guided by a certified trainer or program that works with children.
“We used to worry what would happen if a child lifted weights,” said Stricker. “Now we worry more about what might happen if they do not.”