Children, weight training, facts and fiction…
A lot of adults use weights as part of their workout regimens, and for good reason. Weights are one of the best ways of increasing the efficiency of a workout, by increasing the number of calories burnt, increasing the muscle output, and increasing the overall intensity of the workout. With repetitive use, fat burning also increases, stamina is improved, and the muscles become stronger over time. Everyone who has used weights and has incorporated weights into their routine will vouch for the same. But when the same regimens are applied to children and adolescents, the effects are wildly different.
First of all, the myth that children should not use weights at all, needs to be dispelled. Weight training for children can be useful, but it needs to be done right. At the same time, we read in a lot of places that using weights can lead to stunted growth or permanently altered body shape and dysmorphism. These facts are true to a certain extent, so let’s try to understand them.
Since children are still growing, their skeleton is not the same as that of adults. The bones are not ‘fused’, the long bones are still in the process of elongating, and the growth plates are still expanding. Skeletal growth occurs in two ways- in length, and in width. The width of the bones depends upon calcium deposition, level of nutrition, genetics, etc. Among others. The length to which bones grow also depends on the same factors, and here is where using weights can have an impact. Certain forms of weight training can cause the ‘growth plates’, that is, the soft growing centers in the plates of bone, to stop growing and fuse. As a result, the skeleton is stunted. A lot of children and adolescents who do the wrong sort of weight training are shorter as a result, than they would have otherwise been. This is noticed even more apparently when the parents are naturally above average heightwise. These children also have an overall short and stocky body shape, as a result. In addition, muscles and tendons are also affected. Injuries are also far more common, such as over stretched tendons, strained ligaments, etc. Of course, there are plenty of reasons for children to DO weight training as well. All the benefits that adults get from weight and strength training, are carried over to children as well. When and how the weights are used makes all the difference.
Once a child crosses puberty, their body produces more testosterone, more so in the case of boys. This is why it makes more sense for children and teenagers to use weight training after they have hit puberty. After puberty, the production of testosterone increases and the muscles of the body can respond better to weight training. The best idea is to incorporate lighter weights as part of a routine that involves a lot of stretching. This helps condition the muscle fibers, improves blood flow in and around the musculature, and stretching is overall good for the body. Using weights in exercises that involve multiple muscles, and dynamic motions, is also a great idea. This helps distribute the load all over the body, and provide an equated burn, which is especially good for overweight children, or obese children. Childhood obesity is a serious issue, and using weights as part of a workout is highly advisable. It is recommended, of course, that they start with light weights and progress to heavier ones. It is a good idea for children to lift with clean jerks and snatches and other types of weightlifting movements to. That kind of ‘Olympic’ lifting with jerks and clean lifts puts an intense amount of stress on the spine and knees ONLY if taught incorrectly and with inappropriate weights. This will do a magnified amount of damage in children. However, if the session is carefully managed, the weights are correctly monitored for each childs ability, and the focus is on technique and coordination of movement, then increased flexibility, strength and intra-muscular coordination will be the outcome. A training effect that will transfer and help children excel in other areas of sport and physical activity.
Another advantage of weight training in children is that the sooner a certain schedule and routine is set, the easier it is for them to transition into maintaining a regular, effective workout routine well into adolescence and adulthood. This is even better for kids who are in athletic programs or play sports, because it helps them improve their performance drastically, as well as build their stamina. Regular exercise is also an excellent way of improving their appetites, metabolism, blood circulation, which accelerates their growth too. And this has to be supported at every step with adequate nutrition. Children naturally burn calories faster than adults too, and they require more than the adult quotas of vitamins and minerals. Calcium and phosphorus are the building blocks of the bones and teeth, so these are important. Iron is an important part of hemoglobin, so iron rich foods must be a part of the diet. All the macro and micronutrients need to be considered. Adolescents are capable of making muscle faster too, but again, care should be taken that the weights and more importantly techniques being used aren’t heavy enough to hinder development, rather than promote it.
If these factors are considered, then there is no reason for children and adolescents not to use weights in their workout routines. There will not only be a very noticeable change in their health, but it has been shown that with the exercise, there will be better immunity, better GI function, more rhythmic sleep cycles, and a massive increase in self confidence as well. It also sets ground for a healthy habit that could last all life long.