The child who can pull her own body weight on playground bars and in gym class is setting herself up for more serious strength training in the future. To understand how to build children's muscles, it is important to know about how muscles increase in strength and size, modes of training beneficial to the child and exceptions to youth strength-training rules.
Youth Muscle Development
The feats that adults are able to perform throughout the training process are not possible to the same degree in children. Children's immature nervous systems prevent them from quickly transmitting impulses; therefore, high levels of strength, power and skill cannot be expected of the child in comparison with the adult. A second consideration is children's developing bone growth centers. Overstressing these centers can cause bone growth damage, stunting the normal childhood growth process. A final consideration is kid's limited muscle mass. Children are capable of making small gains but are physiologically unable to achieve them to the degree that adults can.
Consider the effects of an activity on the child’s total anticipated performance. Using preseason weight training as an example, if all a young athlete does prior to the start of her basketball season is lift weights, she risks going into the season unprepared skill wise. To prevent this from happening, strength training can be intertwined into basketball practice as a support activity. She can, for instance, add speed strength performance activities into her practice warm-up using a medicine ball or even her body weight as resistance.
Calisthenics are exercises using your own body weight as resistance. Some examples include assisted pullups, pushup variations, situp variations, triceps dips, body-weight squats and lunges, wall-sits, step-ups, box jumps and burpees. The omission of weights keeps the risk of injury at a minimum while promoting gradual progression. Elementary-aged children should master calisthenics before moving on to weight training.
Free-Weights Promote Bone Health
Strong bones built during childhood can set the foundation for a life of self-efficacy throughout adulthood. Free-weight training is the best way to build bone in children. Although some children are a little young for lifting, free weights are the better option over machine weights, which require that the bone take more stress. By having the child use very light weights -- about 5 pounds -- you can tailor a program to meet her fitness needs. Using weight training at least two to three days per week will provide the necessary amount of bone work needed for optimal bone health.
- The Biophysical Foundations of Human Movement; Bruce Abernethy
- Fitness for Kids and Teens; Dr. Thomas D. Fahey, Ed.D.
- Physiology of Sport and Exercise; Laurel T. Mackinnon, Ph.D., FACSM
- ACSM'S Resource for the Personal Trainer; Barbara Bushman and Rebecca Battista
- YouTube: Strength Training and Injury Prevention for Youth