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This Controversial Breakthrough on Strength Training Can Boost Your Child's Health

exercise for kidsThere were once doubts that strength training held any benefits for children. But a new research review confirms that children and teenagers can increase their muscle strength with regular workouts.

The findings support recent recommendations from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) that kids strength-train two to three times a week under professional supervision.

Studies have shown that children's risk of injury from strength training is no greater than that from other types of exercise or sports, and the potential benefits of such training, such as increased bone density and decreased body fat, generally outweigh any risks.

Reuters reports:

"Overall ... the training was effective at boosting kids' strength, with gains being greater among older kids versus prepubertal children (typically about age 10 or younger) ... The average strength gain varied widely among the studies, but in the majority the kids improved their strength by 20 percent to 40 percent of their starting levels."

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

There's absolutely no doubt that kids need exercise, and that most kids aren't getting enough. Less than one-third of kids aged 6 to 17 get at least 20 minutes of daily exercise in one form or another.

This is downright tragic, considering the multitude of short- and long-term health benefits your child can gain from a regular exercise regimen, including:

  1. Improved brainpower, higher IQ, and improved thinking
  2. Reduced risk of diabetes and pre-diabetes
  3. Improved immune system function
  4. Improved sleep
  5. Improved mood
  6. Stronger bones
  7. Weight loss
  8. Increased energy levels

However, whether or not strength training in particular is suitable for children has been a controversial issue. Many experts have long considered strength training too risky for growing children, warning it could lead to injury.

However, the evidence shows these fears are largely unfounded.

In fact, kids do not run any greater risk of being injured from strength training than they do from any other sport or physical activity. And the benefits of strength training during youth and adolescence have far-reaching health benefits, including:

  • Increased bone density
  • Decreased body fat
  • Improved physical performance, which reduces risk of injury when playing sports
  • Improved motor performance skills

New Guidelines: Exercise Regimen for Kids Should Include Strength Training

The most recent meta-analysis, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that children who engaged in strength training using either free weights or resistance-training machines one to five times a week, for about 40 minutes per session, improved their strength by 20 to 40 percent.

Teens experienced higher levels of improvement, compared to kids under the age of 10.

Those who trained a few times a week also saw more improvement than those who limited their strength training to once a week.

The most effective exercises included isotonic contraction-type exercises, such as:

  • Bicep curls
  • Squats
  • Bench presses

These findings line up with the most recent, updated exercise recommendations from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), which now recommends children, aged 6 and older, to incorporate strength training two to three times a week.

As of last year, the position of the NSCA is that a properly designed, supervised and age appropriate resistance training program for youths can:

  • enhance muscular strength and power
  • improve cardiovascular risk profile 
  • improve motor skill performance and may contribute to enhanced sports performance 
  • increase a young athlete's resistance to sports-related injuries
  • help improve the psychosocial well-being
  • help promote and develop exercise habits during childhood and adolescence

Please note that it's ESSENTIAL to make sure your child is under professional supervision when using free weights or resistance-training machines, to make sure each exercise is performed safely.

Incorrectly performed exercises can cause far more harm than good, and that goes for adults as well.

The NSCA guidelines include the disclaimer that "if qualified supervision, age-appropriate exercise equipment, and a safe training environment are not available, youth should not perform resistance exercise due to the increased risk of injury."

The Importance of Weight Training for Optimal Health

Children and teens are certainly not the only ones who can greatly benefit from weight training. Strength training is an integral part of a well-rounded exercise program, and is recommended for all ages, including seniors.

Many still make the mistake of equating weight training with "bulking up." Please understand that strength training is not just about "looking good." It's also an important part of maintaining a healthy weight, strengthening your bones, and improving posture, range of motion and functionality of your body.

The intensity of your resistance training can also achieve a number of beneficial changes on the molecular, enzymatic, hormonal, and chemical level in your body, which will help slow down (and many cases stop) many of the diseases caused by a sedentary lifestyle.

Therefore, resistance training is also an important element if you want to prevent common diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, and clearly, the earlier you start, the better off you'll be.

It has been clearly shown that exercising during your youth has long-term beneficial impacts on your health.

Strength Training Reduces Risk of Osteoporosis

Weight-bearing exercise is one of the most effective remedies against osteoporosis, and if you get your kids started on the right path during childhood, you can effectively set the stage for lifelong prevention.

Resistance training can improve bone density because as you put more tension on your muscles it puts more pressure on your bones, which then respond by continuously creating fresh, new bone.

In addition, as you build more muscle, and make the muscle that you already have stronger, you also put more constant pressure on your bones.

What about Sprint 8 for Kids?

Sprint 8 is the key component of my comprehensive Peak Fitness exercise program (which also includes strength training).

This high-intensity, short burst-type exercise is perhaps the most natural of all exercises for children. In fact, when left to their own devices, children will do this naturally – going all out for short bursts of time, followed by longer "recovery" periods. You also see animals doing the same thing.

Humans were simply not designed to run at a steady pace for extended periods of time, and you almost never see that type of behavior in the wild either.

The research is so clear about the superior benefits of this type of exercise – which mimics natural behavior -- that the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine have now changed their exercise cardio guidelines from slow but steady aerobic cardio to high-intensity interval training.

Sprint 8 Instructions

During Sprint 8 exercises you raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold (220 minus your age) for 20 to 30 seconds, followed by a 90-second recovery period.

Depending on your child's current level of fitness, he may need to work his way up to 8 cycles. I recommend starting with 2-4 cycles, and gradually increasing to 8.

Here are the principles:

  1. Warm up for three minutes
  2. Then, go all out, as hard as you can for 30 seconds
  3. Recover for 90 seconds
  4. Repeat 7 more times, for a total of 8 repetitions
  5. Cool down for a few minutes afterwards by cutting down your intensity by 50-80%.

For more information about Sprint 8, please review this previous article. You can also view this video which actually shows me performing a Sprint 8 exercise on a recumbent bike.

Know that Sprint 8 exercises have a number of health benefits that you simply cannot achieve with any other type of exercise, and for adults over 30, the most important of these is the natural production of human growth hormone (HGH), which is essential for strength, overall fitness, and longevity.

Children and teens do not need to worry too much about producing HGH, but this type of training can still have magnificent benefits for this age group, as it radically improves fat loss and helps build muscle. It also dramatically improves athletic speed and performance, which can greatly benefit aspiring youth athletes.

Overall, Sprint 8 exercises will allow your child (and you!) to achieve her fitness goals much faster.

When doing Sprint 8 exercises about twice a week, most people notice the following benefits:

  • Reduced body fat
  • Dramatically improved muscle tone
  • Firmer skin
  • Greater energy levels
  • Improved athletic speed and performance

The evidence is clear: everyone, regardless of your age, needs a comprehensive exercise program in order to maintain optimal health, and strength training is NOT just for muscle-heads and beach buffs. It's an integral part of a well-rounded physical fitness regimen – even for kids!