Resistance Training for Kids? Yes or No?

As I write this article, my 12 year old son is finishing off a 15 minute kettlebell workout. He came to me a few months ago asking if I could put a training program together for him. His goals were to work his entire body while improving his performance in sports (he plays soccer and runs cross country). I now realize that an additional motive may be for him to put on some muscle to attract some attention from the ladies. I get it...attention from girls was important to me in 7th grade as well!

While I’ve tried to do my best to just live by example and not force my children to make exercise or resistance training (i.e. lifting weights) a priority, I was definitely encouraged when he asked me for my help. His 7 year old little brother is already jumping in once in a while now to see if he can lift heavy things too!

But should children resistance train? If so, what are the benefits? Turns out, the answer is yes...and there is a big benefit other than just improved fitness and strength.

Back in July of this year, the results of a meta-analysis were published. The goal of this review was to investigate the effect of resistance training on academic outcomes in school-aged youth (ages 5-18).

The nine researchers conducted a systematic search of six electronic databases (CINAHL Complete, PsycINFO, SCOPUS, Ovid MEDLINE, SPORTDiscus and EMBASE) with no date restrictions. They only reviewed studies that, (a) included school-aged youth (5-18 years), and (b) examined the effect of resistance training on academic outcomes (i.e., cognitive function, academic achievement, and/or on-task behavior in the classroom).

Fifty-three studies made the cut.

The following definitions were used in the analysis:

Cognition: The set of mental processes that contribute to perception, memory, intellect and action.

Academic achievement: The extent to which a student has achieved their educational goals, commonly measured by examinations or continuous assessment (i.e., standardized tests, school grades).

On-task behavior: On-task behavior (follows the class rules and is appropriate to the learning situation).

Off-task behavior: (any behavior that was not on-task and could be categorized as either motor off-task, noise off-task or passive off-task).

The meta-analysis concluded that preliminary evidence shows resistance training may improve cognitive function, academic performance, and on-task behaviors in school-aged youth. Higher levels of muscular fitness were associated with greater performance in tests of cognition and academic achievement! This is a huge development. 

As a parent, if you want your child to perform at their best academically with less behavioral issues, strength training should be part of their regular routine. Even if they do not play sports.

According to the Mayo Clinic, light resistance and controlled movements are best for kids — with a special emphasis on proper technique and safety. Kids can do many strength training exercises with his or her own body weight or inexpensive resistance tubing. Free weights and machine weights are other options.

Done properly, strength training can:

  • Increase your child's muscle strength and endurance
  • Help protect your child's muscles and joints from sports-related injuries
  • Help improve your child's performance in nearly any sport, from dancing and figure skating to football and soccer
  • Develop proper techniques that your child can continue to use as he or she grows older

Keep in mind that strength training isn't only for athletes. Even if your child isn't interested in sports, strength training can:

  • Strengthen your child's bones
  • Help promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Help your child maintain a healthy weight
  • Improve your child's confidence and self-esteem

International guidelines recommend children and adolescents participate in an average of 60 min of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. Further, it is advised that young people engage in muscle-strengthening activities, such as resistance training at least 3 days per week. Resistance training is a specialized form of muscle strengthening activity designed to enhance muscular strength, local muscular endurance, and muscular power. It involves the use of different modes of training with a variety of resistance loads, including but not limited to body weight, free weights, elastic bands, medicine balls, and kettlebells.

I found it interesting that most of the studies were done where the resistance training took place in schools, during the day. Further solidifying the fact that we should be promoting more physical activity in schools. Students are required to spend most of the day in a classroom, where sedentary behaviors are prevalent. In this context, the inclusion of resistance training into active learning should be considered by school districts. For the school district my children are in, daily recess ends after 5th grade and PE Class is just once a week in middle and high school.

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Wishing you optimal health and peak performance,

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