Fitness for life: Why have strength training

THE RECENT Beijing Olympic Games should have fired up the imagination and motivation of many a person to become fit, strong and healthy. However, this effect may not last unless you had already cultivated a lifestyle of regular exercise.

But better late than never, and appropriate to start with your tweens. This could well be the most important life-saver you provide them for a healthy future. This urgency for exercise must be evaluated against the increasing sentiment that the kids of today are somehow not as tough as those of yesteryears.

Sedentary pursuits and diet
This physical softness is commonly attributed to our increasing digital lifestyle, to a greater engagement with computer and video games, a pursuit that is generally sedentary. In addition, there is an increasing tendency to consumption of fast food, a byproduct of our highly urbanised society. There is thus a need for parents to take an active interest in the moulding of physical strength and fitness of their tweens. Regular exercise, taken as a family, becomes ingrained in their psyche as a lifestyle habit contributing to a lasting healthy body and mind.

In this 3-part series on fitness for life, our focus is on strength or resistance training. In this introduction, we focus on the case for strength training.

A compelling argument for strength-training programs is that significant improvements have been seen in the self-esteem, mental discipline and socialization of children who participate.

Muscular strength
Think back to your days in school physical education classes. What games did you play? What types of physical attributes and skills were most often rewarded with success? Most likely, you are thinking of team games that featured speed, agility, jumping ability and overall athleticism. But a glaring omission in that list is muscular strength.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics was an obvious testimony to the value of muscular strength. Look at Usain Bolt, the world's fastest Olympian! It's strength that made him deliver that last spurt to capture and maintain a lead for longer in order to win. In the upset Olympic 400m win by American LaShawn Merrit, one sports commentator voiced the thoughts of many when he noted strength was probably the deciding factor as Merrit is more muscular than the favourite who lost, fellow American Jeremy Wariner.

In our humbler home arena, what else can strength training deliver? Well, it provides an opportunity to let tweens who typically struggle with group activities to stand out from their classmates and perform well on an individual basis - a tremendous way to boost self-esteem in those who need it most.

Strength or resistance training is a usual part of sports and physical fitness programmes for young people. Training may include the use of free weights, weight machines, elastic tubing, or an athlete's own body weight. The amount and form of resistance used and the frequency of resistance exercises are determined by specific program goals.

But parents may object to this, voicing concerns that this is too much or too early. In the next instalment, we will examine the myths and misconceptions about strength training.