Strength training: Myths and misconceptions

IN a previous article on why have strength or resistance training, we touched on the physical softness of today’s youth due to increasing sendentary pursuits and less than ideal diets associated with an urbanised lifestyle that expects food delivered fast. Citing pertinent examples from the recent Beijing Olympics, we noted the importance of muscular development to the growth and self-esteem of the tween, and introduced the idea of having a strength training programme.

In this article, we examine the concerns parents may have of such a program that would involve some form of weight training.

Some misconceptions

Two of the most common misconceptions are that strength training may stunt the growth of children and that children should not lift weights until they are 12 years old.

However, there is simply no evidence to support either of these statements. In fact, all of the major fitness and medical organizations in the US recommend strength training for youth, assuming that basic guidelines are adhered to and that appropriate leadership is present.

When can a tween begin strength training?

During childhood, kids improve their body awareness, control and balance through active play. As early as age 8, however, strength training can become a valuable part of an overall fitness plan — as long as the child is mature enough to follow directions and practice proper technique and form.

Benefits of strength or resistance training

Guidelines issued by the world famous medical institution, the Mayo Clinic lists the following advantages for children when strength training is done properly under qualified supervision:

a.  Increase their muscle strength and endurance

b.  Help protect their muscles and joints from injury

c.  Improve their performance in nearly any sport, from dancing and figure skating to football and soccer.

Even if your tween isn't interested in sports, strength training can:

a.  Strengthen their bones

b.  Help promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels

c.  Boost their metabolism

d.  Help them to maintain a healthy weight

e.  Improve their self-esteem 

Improvements in muscular fitness, bone mineral density, body composition, motor fitness performance and injury resistance should be compelling evidence for all parents, though children will likely focus on things like enhanced sports performance and the social aspects of exercise. 

In fact, children don't usually have the ability to comprehend long-term concepts until they are in the tween years, so abstract ideas like healthy bones and disease prevention will do little to motivate them, and may in fact demotivate instead. 

Stick with ideas like self-improvement and individual success, and always make sure everyone is having fun. Fun is the number one motivator in almost every aspect of a child's life.

In the next and final instalment of this series, we will discuss some guidelines for strength training.