Strength training for children used to be frowned upon, but fortunately, those days are in the past.
Humans are meant to move and use their muscles, and children are no exception.
Children need 60 minutes of physical activity every day. That’s a minimum recommendation, and increasing this amount offers additional benefits. Daily moderate to vigorous physical exercise helps build the child’s bones and muscles, promotes psychological well-being, and lays the foundation for positive habits as an adult, leading to a stronger, healthier life.1
Traditionally, promoting physical activity for children has focused on cardiovascular exercise. However, the past few decades of research have shown that resistance training offers unique benefits. Strong muscles allow children to function better in everyday activities and when participating in various sports during adolescence and the teenage years.
Beyond the muscular and performance-enhancing benefits, resistance training offers young individuals psychological benefits like improved self-confidence and body image.
Strength training at a young age also lays the groundwork to prevent future health issues by improving several health markers and reducing the risk of various non-communicable diseases.
This article provides a thorough overview of strength training for children and adolescents. It covers both physiological and psychological effects, as well as potential risks. Additionally, gives science-based recommendations on how to introduce children to strength training and how to design a safe and effective training program.
In addition, we present a safe and science-based training program for children: StrengthLog’s Training Program for Children and Adolescents. It is free in our workout tracker, which you can download, also 100% free, by using the button for your device below:
Table of Contents
Physiological Effects of Strength Training for Children and Adolescents
Resistance training in childhood and youth leads to significant increases in strength, about as muc as untrained adults who begin strength training. Children can expect strength gains of up to 30 to 50 %.2 One study showed that 10-year-old children who started bench press training increased their strength in that exercise by up to 35%.3
Children don’t add much lean body mass when they start lifting, partly because they don’t have enough testosterone yet. Instead, they get stronger because their nervous system gets better at using the capacity of their muscles.4
The primary mechanism that makes kids who lift stronger without significantly increasing muscle size is better activation of motor units. Motor units are the nerve cells that supply nerves to your muscles. Strength training makes a child’s nervous system more effective at activating these motor units and coordinating muscle contractions during heavy lifts without building bigger muscles.
In addition, a child’s central nervous system adapts more quickly to stimuli than an adult’s. If you’ve tried becoming good at some tricky physical movement as an adult, you know how hard that can be. That means that strength training not only makes the child stronger but also improves their motor skills and body awareness in activities that require balance and explosiveness, giving them an advantage in sports over kids their age who don’t lift.5
Improved Body Composition
Obesity has become more and more prevalent among children and adolescents. Inactivity can often lead to a vicious circle where overweight children and adolescents actively avoid exercise. They find physical activity uncomfortable, boring, and embarrassing, making gaining even more weight easier.
Traditionally, overweight children have been encouraged to take up aerobic activities. However, an overweight child often lacks the motivation for this type of physical activity or finds it less than fun. I was overweight as a kid, and I remember how terrible physical education class was. No way was I going to go out and run in my free time.
Weight training programs place different demands on the body and are a more easily accessible form of exercise to many overweight children. By regularly participating in strength training, children and adolescents can acquire the self-confidence required for a more active lifestyle. Not to mention enjoying that lifestyle.
Juvenile obesity is associated with increased metabolic risk, and resistance training can be part of the solution to improve muscle health and body composition.
Improved Bone Health
An old misconception argues that strength training harms the young skeleton and that children should avoid weightlifting.
Today, the evidence clearly shows that adolescence is the most beneficial time to strengthen the bones with weight-bearing exercise. Lifting weights strengthens and prepares it for later in life when that added bone mineral density makes a huge difference.
Physical exercise, including resistance training, help ensure that peak bone pass reaches optimal levels by the time the child enters adulthood. That’s when the skeleton becomes more resistant to manipulation through outside factors like exercise.8 Low peak bone mass is a significant risk factor for osteoporosis. Participating in weight-bearing activities during adolescence effectively counters this risk.
Resistance training has a positive effect on the skeleton, even during adulthood. Still, weight training is the most effective for enhancing bone mass before the skeleton has developed entirely. The mechanical stress of weight training is not bad or something to avoid growing up. On the contrary, it works together with the child’s natural growth to increase bone mass..
Introducing weight-bearing activities during adolescence can improve life-long bone health. It is, however, essential to maintain this practice throughout adulthood and into old age. The improved skeletal health from weight-bearing exercise gradually disappears if you stop training, just like an athlete loses muscle mass and strength if they become sedentary.11
Lower Rates of Injury in Sports
Strong muscles are helpful in everyday life but essential in many sports. Strength training in adolescence significantly benefits athletic performance in most sporting activities.
Not only does increased strength and muscle power mean better performance in almost any sport, but research proves that young athletes who combine their sport-specific training with a strength training program have lower rates of injury. In addition, resistance training as part of the overall training program shortens the rehabilitation when they are injured.
One study showed that high school football athletes introduced to weight training as part of their preseason training experienced lower rates of knee injuries season after season. The injuries were less complicated, and fewer players required surgery.12
Another study demonstrated that high school athletes who regularly participated in strength training injured themselves less often than control groups who did not lift. In addition, those injured returned to training and competition faster.13
A meta-analysis concluded that children and adolescents participating in strength training could reduce the injury rate during other sports by up to 66 %.14 That’s a massive difference, and an important one, considering injuries is the number one career-ending factor.
High blood pressure in teens and even during childhood is more prevalent than ever before as the obesity epidemic spreads to younger populations. Resistance training helps prevent high blood pressure from re-occurring after a successful blood pressure-lowering intervention in young people.15
Positive changes in diet and body composition are likely the main factors for improving blood pressure in young people. Still, the combination of weight-bearing endurance and resistance training can likely enhance the positive effects.
Even though lifting weights is a safe exercise for children, there are potential risks that should be addressed.
The risk most commonly associated with weight lifting in youth is probably the risk of injuries to the epiphyseal plates. This is a risk exclusive to children and adolescents. The growth plates have already closed in adults with fully developed skeletons.
Epiphyseal plate fractures are common. Up to 30% of all skeletal fractures in children are epiphyseal fractures and entirely unrelated to weightlifting. These injuries usually heal without problems, but the risk of more severe complications is always a consideration. Serious trauma to these areas could lead to the growth plates closing prematurely, resulting in stunted growth and limb length abnormalities in a worst-case scenario.
Doctors and some scientists began advising against resistance training in the late 1970s and the early 1980s after case reports showed increasing trends of injuries to the growth plates and cartilage damage in high school athletes lifting weights.18
However, later research found that it was not the lifting itself that caused these injuries but improper form and poorly designed training programs. The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) is a United States database collecting emergency department visit information. It showed that the causes of the injuries were likely from using too heavy loads, improper technique, unsupervised training, and faulty equipment.
Both regular resistance training and weight lifting are safer and less likely to result in injuries than most sports activities school-age adolescents participate in.19
Only three studies have shown acute injuries in strength-training adolescents, but none were skeletal injuries. A review article found that the risk of injury in these three studies was 0.176, 0.053, and 0.055 per 100 hours of training.20 These numbers are significantly lower than most sports children and teenagers participate in, including all team sports. For example, playing football is almost 1,000 times more likely to lead to injury.
Resistance training can theoretically lead to growth plate fractures, thus increasing the risk of permanent damage to the skeleton. This risk is only prevalent when the child uses improper form and more weight than they can handle.
It’s essential to ensure that all children who take up strength training do so under proper supervision and after thorough instructions, using correct lifting techniques and selecting safely manageable loads.
The current opinion of the majority of the experts in the field is that participating in resistance training before the epiphyseal plates close is not harmful. Healthcare and fitness professionals from all organizations agree that weight training is safe and effective for children and adolescents when supervised and following recommended guidelines and precautions.21
Soft Tissue Injuries
Soft tissue injuries are the most common strength training-related injuries in adults and adolescents. There are numerous reports of injuries related to resistance training in youth, but that is inherent in all forms of physical exercise. When doing something physical, there is always a risk of injury. The only way to eliminate the risk of injury from exercise is to stay sedentary, which means a much higher risk of adverse health outcomes.
Luckily, the reported incidence of severe injuries due to lifting weights is low, especially compared to sports like football or hockey. Apart from back injuries, the reported type of injury is usually along the lines of muscle strains and shoulder injuries leading to a week away from training.
Back injuries, however, are not uncommon. About a third of all reported strength training-related injuries in adolescents are back-related. Most of these reported injuries have not been severe, but some have required surgical interventions. Compared to most other sports, the injury rate is still low, and several studies have independently shown that the number of injuries per 100 hours of training is between 0.053 and 0.055.22 23
One study showed an injury rate of 0.29 per 100 hours of power lifting training. This study showed a significantly higher injury rate than previously mentioned, but the participants were competitive young powerlifters. These lifters use heavier loads and push themselves, not always using proper form. Injury rates can be expected to rise under such conditions, regardless of the lifter’s age. Still, the injury rate is low compared to competitive sports like rugby or other team sports. The injury rate for adolescents participating in rugby is 275% higher.
Most back injuries reported in strength-training youth could result from muscular imbalance from training “for the mirror.” A strength-training program focused on building visually appealing muscles and looking good in the mirror could lead to neglecting core, trunk, and back training with resulting strength imbalances.24 Over time, these muscles become a weak link and the risk of injury increases. In this case, the injuries would not result from strength training per se but improperly constructed training programs leading to muscular imbalances over time.
Resistance Training Is One of the Safest Types of Exercise for Children and Adolescents
The already low injury rate of youth resistance training might be even lower than officially reported. In the reports of resistance training-related injuries in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), there is a code for “weight training.” That code does not indicate how that injury occurred. It could be unsupervised children playing in a gym and injuring themselves on training equipment without participating in any structured, actual “training.” In reality, the good statistics might be even better.
In conclusion, there is a risk of injury when children and adolescents participate in weight training. Physical exercise always means an increased risk of bodily injury compared to sedentary life. However, the risk of physical harm from lifting weights is minor compared to most other types of physical exercise. The existing risk can easily be minimized and almost eliminated with supervised training using proper form and precautions.
The age-specific risks, like injuries to the growth plates, are not related to resistance training per se but to not following recommended practices.
Psychological Effects of Resistance Training in Youth
Empirical evidence shows that resistance training in childhood and adolescence effectively strengthens the young body and lays the foundations for healthy adult life. However, there is limited research on the psychological effects of resistance training, especially in children and adolescents. But the available research indicates exclusively positive results.
A 2013 randomized controlled trial demonstrated that overweight teenagers improved physical parameters like strength, self-evaluation, and behavioral control after six months of regular strength training.25
Half a year after the study concluded, the positive effects were gone after the participants stopped training. That shows how important it is to make physical exercise, including strength training, a life-long endeavor rather than a temporary one. The psychological benefits of weight training slowly disappear with detraining, much like the physical gains.
Another study showed that weight-training female schoolchildren rated their bodies as more attractive and were more satisfied with their physical appearance compared to an age-matched control group.26 These positive effects occurred without physical changes in the girls’ bodies. Lifting weights increases satisfaction with the own body and promotes body positivity even without any substantial physical changes. The same effects were not evident in boys the same age, however.
Yet another study demonstrated that 12 weeks of resistance training significantly increased muscular strength, decreased body fat, and increased self-esteem, both in overweight and normal-weight teenagers.27
Children and adolescents benefit from regular strenth training to not only improve various physical health markers and muscle strength but also to improve self-confidence and body image.
Resistance Training in Youth Lays the Foundation for a Healthy Adult Life
A recent meta-analysis looked at associations between muscle strength and muscle health in young individuals and health markers later in life. The researchers found evidence that youth strength training increases the chance of staying strong and healthy in adulthood and old age..28
The better the muscle health in youth, the lower the risk of obesity as an adult. Partly because behavior and habits that promote physical activity carry over into adulthood, partly because of a more effective energy turnover and metabolism.
The meta-analysis also revealed that greater muscle strength in adolescence is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome later in life. These findings were not statistically significant, mainly because only a few studies investigated this particular association.
The meta-analysis did find a significant association between low muscle strength and the risk of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a driving factor that leads to type 2 diabetes, and resistance training improves insulin sensitivity and the function of the beta cells. In other words, lifting weights protects from type 2 diabetes.
Another finding was the previously mentioned association between weight-bearing exercise in adolescence and a more robust adult skeleton. Childhood and adolescence are formative years for habits and behavior that carry over into adulthood and significantly increase or decrease the risk of several diseases and health problems. In some cases, like bone formation, there is no better opportunity in life to influence this risk positively. Resistance training, starting in childhood, is a critical factor in preventing having to treat these health issues later in life. It is always better to prevent health issues than to treat them.
When Can a Child Begin Lifting Weights?
Old myths and misunderstandings concerning strength training in children are mostly busted. Recent research indicates that the sooner a child is introduced to resistance training in some form, the better.
A child can take up structured strength training when they are mature enough to understand and follow instructions. The child must have reached the neuromuscular maturity needed to ensure the correct form and to maintain balance, control, and posture while performing an exercise.
Because each child is unique and does not reach a pre-determined level of maturity at a certain age, it’s impossible to give general recommendations for when they are ready to lift weights. The most common age is between 6 and 7 years, although variations from this interval are common.
Before puberty, the central nervous system is more pliable and able to develop basic motor skills and base levels of strength. Resistance training can give a child a life-long advantage compared to age-matched, sedentary peers.
Several studies show that children as young as five can benefit from and enjoy resistance training. As long as individual maturity allows them to understand instructions and they have the physical capacity to perform exercises with good form, it’s not too early for a playful introduction to lifting.29
There are readily available recommendations on structuring a good, science-based resistance-training program for children and adolescents.30 Let’s take a look at the most important ones.
To prepare appropriately, any resistance-training program for children and adolescents should include a warm-up. A dynamic warm-up improves neuromuscular function and improves performance. In addition, such a warm-up routine can prevent injuries, especially in lower body muscles.31
An effective warm-up can last 5–10 minutes and involve various dynamic movement-based exercises for the whole body, like hops, skips, jumping jacks, push-ups, sprints, crunches, and standing leg raises with toe touches.32
Choice of Exercises
There is an almost unlimited selection of exercises suitable for young lifters. No particular movements are inherently bad for children, and you should select activities based on the child’s size, training level and experience, and individual motor skills.
The exercise selection should ensure muscular balance over the joints and between muscle antagonists, like the quadriceps and the hamstrings, or the biceps and the triceps musculature, to eliminate the risk of over- or under-stimulating certain body parts or muscle groups.
All types of workout routines, from training programs using free weights like barbells and dumbbells to body weight-based programs to elastic exercise bands and machine training, have been successful in controlled studies with young participants.
For a child taking up strength training for the first time, an introduction through machine-based training might be prudent, although optional. Free weights place higher demands on coordination and muscle control. These factors also improve when using machines, making them a good choice for the first strength-training program.
Regardless of the choice of exercise, performing both the concentric and the eccentric phases (raising and lowering the weight) of the movements in a controlled way with proper form and a complete range of motion is important.
The most common strength training rotuines for adolescents are based on full-body training, in which every muscle group is trained multiple times per week. Exercises activating large muscle groups should be performed at the beginning of the workout, followed by exercises for smaller muscles. Compound movements should be performed before any isolation work within a workout.
Suppose the child is learning the technique of a complex exercise. In that case, place the more demanding activity using heavier loads at the beginning of the training session before the child’s muscles tire. That way, you avoid compromising coordination and form.
Training with heavy weights and six reps of fewer produces the most significant gains in strength in adults. Loads allowing for 20 or more repetitions have a more significant effect on developing muscular endurance.
Studies involving resistance-training youth show that this age group responds better to higher ranges of repetitions. Especially during the initial months of strength training, a repetition interval of 10 to 15 offers the best training adaptations in the form of strength gains.
A common and prudent recommendation regarding repetition intervals for strength-training adolescents is lifting 75% of 1RM and avoiding muscular failure.
Current recommendations presented by The National Strength and Conditioning Association suggest that young resistance-training individuals perform 1–3 sets per exercise for muscle strength and muscle health.33
Previously untrained children introduced to strength training should start with one set per exercise and training session. After a few weeks, the child can increase this to two sets per exercise and training session. This procedure can be repeated yet another few weeks later for a third set per exercise and training session. Performing multiple sets per muscle group is superior to one set in adults, and nothing indicates that young people should do things differently. If anything, children recover faster than adults.
The best training frequency for children is to train 2–3 times per week on nonconsecutive days. Working out once a week provides only 67% of the strength gains expected with two weekly training sessions and eliminates any potential improvements in some exercises.34
Two to three days of strength training a week ensure sufficient time for recovery for both muscles and the central nervous system while still providing robust results.
If the child stops training, the strength gains they have achieved gradually disappear and return to base levels with an average strength loss of 3% per week. Eight weeks of detraining can eliminate all results from lifting weights.35 This loss of strength occurs even if the child keeps physically active with other forms of exercise. To keep the strength gains, strength training children and adolescents need two weekly training sessions.
Gaining and maintaining strength is not relevant to adults only. A return to sedentary behavior, or just a layoff from strength training, means that the gains gradually go away.
That’s why children must enjoy the training. It has to be something to look forward to, or it will soon become boring and abandoned.
When exercise becomes an enjoyable part of everyday life, the chances the activity continues on a regular basis into adulthood are much greater. If a child doesn’t enjoy a training program, switch things up. A strength-training routine doesn’t have to involve dumbbells and a gym environment.
General recommendations for resting in between sets are usually between 2–3 minutes for adults. These recommendations are not necessarily optimal for children and adolescents.
Current scientific evidence indicates that young athletes do not tire after sets as adults do. One minute of rest between sets seems enough for adolescents to recover maximal performance.36 Resting longer will not hurt, but it might be considered a waste of time or lead to boredom just sitting around doing nothing. Grown-ups enjoy their rest, but kids want action.
A novice weight lifter should perform repetitions with a moderate tempo, with complete control of the movement, to get used to the exercise and establish a firm mind-muscle connection. This is a prudent practice regardless of age, but it might be especially beneficial for children.
With experience comes the need to adapt the repetition speed to the lifter’s goals. For example, a young lifter who trains for Olympic lifting purposes will have to adjust the repetition speed of most of the training to suit those goals, meaning faster and more explosive movements.
Varying the repetition speed now and then improves the training adaptations of children and adolescents. Doing so forces the muscle to adapt to various tempos. As long as the child is in control of the movement and not the opposite way around, there are no disadvantages to gradually introducing fast, explosive moments into the training program.
Many controlled studies demonstrate that resistance training has significant lifelong positive effects on children and adolescents’ health, self-confidence, and muscular fitness.
As long as you follow recommendations and precautions, there are no inherent risks with strength training for children. Many years of research show that resistance training can and should be part of a well-considered strategy to lay the foundation of a healthy and strong adult life. Authorities like the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics state that strength training is an important part of physical conditioning and “should be part of a multifaceted approach to exercise and fitness.”37
- Strength training enhances strength and muscular performance and provides young people with documented improvements in health markers like skeletal health, body composition, risk of cardiovascular disease, and psychological health.
- Children and adolescents who regularly participate in strength training demonstrate performance advantages in other sports compared to non-strength training youth of the same age. Resistance training also significantly lowers the risk of injury in other sports.
- Unlike many other forms of physical exercise, strength training can be adapted to suit all individuals, regardless of sex, social background, and handicaps.
Adolescents, including those who, for various reasons, find it hard to participate in more traditional youth sports activities, can, in strength training, find an alternative that not only provides universally positive effects but also can be tailored to suit everyone.
StrengthLog’s Training Program for Children and Adolescents
Looking for a training program for your child? We’ve got you covered. This part of the the article presents a safe and science-based workout routine called StrengthLog’s Training Program for Children and Adolescents.
Physical activity should be encouraged right from the get-go, from the age of 0 and onwards. StrengthLog’s Training Program for Children and Adolescents is not for children that young, but if you are the proud parent of a preschool child, you’ll find a great resource in the World Health Organization’s Guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep for children under five years of age.
The rate of physical development varies a lot from child to child. That means you can’t set an ideal age to introduce structured strength training suitable for every child.
Many younger children around the age of 6 or 7 can understand and follow instructions in the gym to ensure proper and safe form in various exercises. That’s also when many children gain the ability to coordinate their brain, nervous system, and muscles enough to physically perform strength training exercises in a practical setting, in the gym.
Some children mature fast and can start exercising with weights earlier than others. Others take longer than average to reach the development level where structured strength training is suitable.
Different rates of development are perfectly standard.
However, because of these individual differences, we recommend the age span of 9 to 12 as ideal for introducing your child to StrengthLog’s Training Program for Children and Adolescents. However, if your seven-year-old has reached the proper level of maturity and wants to give this program a go, they can do so without any restraints.
You, as a parent, know your child best and can tell if they are ready for a training program better than we can.
This training program is also an excellent option for children and adolescents above that age range who want to join mom and dad in the gym and start lifting. Teens can follow the same training programs as older beginners, such as our beginner barbell program, but StrengthLog’s Training Program for Children and Adolescents is an excellent introduction to weight training.
StrengthLog’s Training Program for Children and Adolescents is free and available in our workout log. You can download StrengthLog by clicking the button for your device below:
What Does a Good Training Program for Children Look Like?
A training program for children needs to meet the following ten criteria:
- Start with a 5–10 minute warm-up for the entire body. It should include a general warm-up phase that raises the heart rate and a series of dynamic movements preparing the targeted muscles for the upcoming workout.
- Until the child has mastered the proper form in the exercises, use a light weight and complete every set without struggling.
- It should include a varied selection of exercises for both the upper and lower body. Performing 1–3 sets of 6–15 repetitions for each activity is optimal.
- Include exercises targeting the core muscles, including the abdominals and the lower back.
- The program should develop and strengthen the child’s muscles in a balanced way. Don’t neglect any muscle groups or joints.
- Increase the weights gradually and progressively in 5–10% increments once the child learns the correct form.
- Vary the exercises systematically from workout to workout. That makes training more fun in the long run and helps eliminate boredom.
- Ensure you or another adult with proper knowledge of training and exercise execution supervises the child at all times. Offer instructions to keep the activity safe and effective.
- Combine the training with a healthy and varied diet, and ensure the child can recover adequately from the practice.
- Offer encouragement and support to the child, motivating them to keep exercising instead of making it a short-term, throw-away activity.
StrengthLog’s Training Program for Children and Adolescents provides you with the first 7 points. You can’t include the final 3 in an app. It is up to you as a parent or caregiver to provide them. They are all essential to ensure your child benefits appropriately from the training right from the get-go.
The Benefits of Strength Training for Kids
Strength training makes muscles stronger and the body more functional, regardless of age. A child doesn’t just build strength by lifting weights but also a foundation for healthy habits during adulthood and old age. That, in turn, is key to a healthy and robust life.
Strength Training Is Safe
Old and tired myths might not agree, but strength training is a safe way to exercise for children and adolescents. For example, no prospective studies suggest any harmful effects on the growth of children. Current scientific consensus tells us there are no reasons to avoid strength training before the growth plates harden into solid bone.
The risk of injury is lower for children engaged in strength training than in most other common sports. That includes all popular team sports. For example, the association between soccer and the risk of injury is 1,000 times greater than in weight training.
There is always some risk of injury with any physical activity—the risk of getting injured when weight training is comparatively low. And not being physically active means a much greater chance of health issues, regardless of age.
Strength Training Gives Your Child Both Physical and Psychological Advantages
Not only is strength training a safe activity for children. It also offers unique and positive health effects that benefit them into adulthood.
Children engaging in weight training increase their maximal strength by up to 50%. Also, they improve their motor skills in all kinds of physical tasks. Several studies show that strength training improves the body composition of adolescents. Overweight children achieve a healthier body composition and enhance their self-esteem and confidence. Sports performance improve drastically.
Strength training is vital to keep as much bone mass as possible when you get old. Children can improve their skeletal mineral content and density and gain bone mass by lifting weights. This practice lays the foundation for sound skeletal health throughout life.
As you can see, strength training offers your child plenty of positive physical health effects. However, the benefits of lifting weights at a young age don’t stop there. Research looking at adolescent strength training’s psychological effects is not as extensive, but the available evidence is overwhelmingly positive. Better self-confidence, improved self-control and regulation of emotions, a feeling of self-worth, and a more positive body image are all results from studies where children and adolescents regularly engage in strength training.
Introducing StrengthLog’s Training Program for Children and Adolescents to your child means giving them physical and psychological advantages that will last their whole life.
Introducing StrengthLog’s Training Program for Children and Adolescents
Physical and psychological benefits galore, and plenty of positive health effects, in other words, when you introduce your child to strength training. Scientific evidence is quite evident in this regard. There are numerous reasons children should engage in muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities several times a week, and lifting weights is an excellent option.
In StrengthLog’s Training Program for Children and Adolescents, you’ll find both bodyweight and free-weight exercises. We designed the program according to current scientific recommendations for strength training for children. With this program, your child effectively and safely trains the entire body, strengthening all major muscle groups, gaining functional capacity, and improving balance.
The program comes with two different full-body workouts. The first workout is called Workout A, and the second Workout B. Alternate between the two for a varied and fun training week, like this:
And so on. If you train three times per week, the next week would look like this:
Frequency and Rest
Children should work out two or three times weekly for the best results. Research suggests that a single workout a week does not give as good results. At the same time, more than three workouts per week offer few, if any, additional benefits.
With StrengthLog’s Training Program for Children and Adolescents, you can choose the training frequency you and your child prefer. We suggest you start with two weekly training sessions, increasing the frequency to three times per week if and when your child wants to. You can also go from two workouts to three, then back to two again, depending on what time permits and what your child wants.
Separate each training session by at least one day of rest. That doesn’t mean physical inactivity, but children should rest 48 to 72 hours between strength training sessions, to ensure proper recovery and to give the body a chance to get stronger from the lifting.
Children are more resistant to muscular fatigue than adults. Strength training guidelines for adults recommend rest intervals of at least 2–3 minutes between sets, but children can rest as little as 1 minute and still recover properly.
A more extended break between sets is no problem, but children can get antsy by sitting around doing nothing for too long. If that’s the case, feel free to begin the next set within a minute or so after completing the last one.
Choose a reasonably low weight for each exercise to beging with. The child should be able to handle it without too much effort. They should be able to complete at least 10–15 repetitions without struggling. This practice allows the child to learn proper form.
Children do not need to reach muscular failure. They shouldn’t. Initially, the main goal is to teach the muscles and nervous system how to perform the exercise safely and effectively. Then, let the child use a weight that makes the last repetition a challenge but not impossible. Also, the weight should never be too heavy for proper form.
Exercise Form and Progression
Be sure to instruct the child on how to perform the exercises with proper technique and good form. Supervise the training sessions and ensure the child performs each set and repetition safely and correctly.
Once the child knows how to perform the exercises and can do so, it’s time to start using heavier weights. Increase the amount of weight by 5–10% once the child can do 10–15 repetitions with proper form and without struggling. Gradually increasing the weight is essential for progress, regardless of age. Training without progression does not only provide poor results, but it can also be quite dull. Tangible results workout to workout, on the other hand, is both motivational and fun.
The best way for your child to learn how to do the exercises is to perform the repetitions reasonably slowly and with complete control of the movement. Over time, introduce different velocities, including fast and explosive. That leads to better training adaptations and improved physical function in the long run. Regardless of repetition tempo, the child should always perform them with complete control of the movements.
Start every training session with a thorough warm-up. Ten minutes of preparing the muscles and nervous system for strength training is a great way to get ready for the workout. An excellent way to warm up looks something like this:
- Five minutes of jogging, rowing, cycling, or jumping rope
- Bodyweight squatting
- High jumps
- Jumping Jacks
- High Knees
- Arm circles
- Wall slides
You can, of course, use many other warm-up protocols, but the one above is a fine example.
StrengthLog’s Training Program for Children and Adolescents: The Exercises
This is the actual training program! Let’s take a look at the different exercises.
- Body Weight Lunge or Dumbbell Lunge: 2 sets x 10 repetitions
- Box Jump: 2 sets x 10 repetitions (use a lower box than in the linked instructions)
- Bench Press: 2 sets x 10 repetitions
- Lat Pulldown: 2 sets x 10 repetitions
- Dumbbell Row: 2 sets x 10 repetitions
- Back Extension: 2 sets x 10 repetitions
- Triceps Pushdown: 2 sets x 10 repetitions
- Dumbbell Curl: 2 sets x 10 repetitions
- Lying Leg Raise: 2 sets x 10 repetitions
- Plank: 1 set x max time
- Dumbbell Squat: 2 sets x 10 repetitions
- Step Up: 2 sets x 10 repetitions
- Lying Leg Curl or Seated Leg Curl: 1 set x 10 repetitions
- Push-Up or Kneeling Push-Up: 3 sets x 10 repetitions
- Inverted Row: 2 sets x 10 repetitions
- Back Extension: 2 sets x 10 repetitions
- Triceps Pushdown: 1 set x 10 repetitions
- Dumbbell Curl: 1 set x 10 repetitions
- Sit-Up: 1 set x 15 repetitions
- Oblique Sit-Up: 2 sets x 15 repetitions
Ten repetitions per set is a great starting point and a good rule of thumb. Feel free to vary that amount, and use anything from 6 repetitions with a heavier weight to 15 repetitions using lighter weights. Any number of repetitions within that range leads to the same or comparable results, but varying the training can make it more engaging and fun for the child.
Track StrengthLog’s Training Program for Children and Adolescents in StrengthLog
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