YEARS ago, a video emerged showing Tiger Woods driving a golf ball like a pro. The only catch: he was just two years old at the time.
The message to parents: if you want your kids to excel in sports, you need to start them young. Of course, beyond developing specific skills—such as throwing, kicking, and swinging—improving strength, power and speed are key components of sports performance training. Which leads many parents to wonder, should my child lift weights? Some experts warn weight training at a young age can damage a child’s growth plates. And that concern has merit. There are dangers to growth plates found at the end of long bones.
The issue is, however, these injuries are almost always the result of using too much weight with the wrong technique. Smart strength training is absolutely acceptable as long as the right exercises are chosen and that the youth has an appropriate level of base strength and mobility.
Exposure to sports and fitness-based games is the best approach for younger kids. But as they reach Year 5 and 6 and high school age, you can start implementing more of a structured approach to strength training.
But we need to proceed with caution. People put too much focus on popular exercises like the bench press and start piling on weight even before a child can do 10 good push ups. Before a kid ever touches a weight, make sure he or she can perform basic body-weight exercises with perfect form.
As mentioned, push ups are a great start, pull ups, overhead squats, dips and lunges are others that can be put into perfect practice.
FIVE RULES FOR KIDS:
- Master the basics first. Work on the two movements above – the push up and overhead squat – until they can be completed correctly. (Check YouTube for video help)
- Focus on compound, multi-joint movements. Choose exercises that emphasize the upper back, core and hips. Less benching, more rowing. Smart exercises to include: stability-ball leg curls, inverted rows and reverse flys with light dumbbells.
- Stay away from most machines. Many gym machines – such as the leg extension, leg press and chest fly (pec deck) – force kids to work through unnatural movement pat- terns that have little carry over to sports and activities of daily living. (Cable machines are the exception).
- Watch the weights. Poor form and excessive loading are the reasons kids wind up injured. Once they’ve mastered their own body weight, start with a resistance that allows for 12 to 15 repetitions with perfect technique. Just one or two sets per exercise is fine initially, working up to a maximum of three once strength and endurance improve. Be sure not to take any sets to the point of muscular failure.
- Use a variety of strengthening equipment. Medicine balls, bands, and cable-based machines allow for three-dimensional movement. These are ideal because they offer kids variety, while training balance and stability just like free weights.
If your kids are keen to improve their skills and strength, improve their performance on the netball court or football ground, get them started correctly with some perfect- ly performed strength and functionality training exercises.