Children love to feel their bodies working. It’s natural for them to enjoy running, jumping, pulling, pushing— even thinking. And we love to watch them move and develop.
From my own experience as a father of two beautiful and active daughters, I don’t need to coerce my kids to do something active. If I say to them on a sunny spring day, “Hey gang, how about some Frisbee or a catch?” rarely do they ever turn me down. If they do, it’s because they are already engaged in some other form of physical or mental activity.
And that’s the key: engagement. Telling kids to go outside and play has a subtext to it that is akin to “get out of my hair,” and kids pick up on that. Their reaction is to refuse you, because they dislike feeling like your aim is to get rid of them. If you want to entice your kids to be active, as the saying goes, “monkey see, monkey do.” Get involved in your children’s games. Find out what they like to play and play with them. Introduce new sports and activities, while teaching them by example. One new and beneficial activity is strength training.
Strength training, aka weight lifting, is something many of us see as an activity for men and women, not children. However, strength training yields profound benefits in children of almost any age. These benefits include improved strength, endurance, bone density, resistance to injury, sports performance, mood, sleep, self-esteem and self-confidence. And the dangers you may have heard, such as that strength training might damage growth plates or stunt growth, are just old wive’s tales. In fact, major health organizations including the American Pediatrics Association give weight lifting in kids the thumbs up, as long as it’s done properly.
I’ve known for many years how potent strength training can be for kids. Now with kids of my own, I want to make sure that the right information is out there. I’m not the first to write on this subject. But as far as I’m concerned, the more parents are exposed to the idea of children engaging in strength training, the better.
The beauty of strength training is that kids love to feel their bodies growing stronger. They relish the way they are able to move their bodies better than before strength training and the kind of self-confidence it bestows, something kids don’t even realize is happening to them. Once learned, motivating kids to strength train becomes somewhat moot because the feeling they derive from it is so positive. When I started lifting weights at 10 years old with my friend Danny Dray in his basement in Queens, New York, I was hooked.
Another positive aspect of strength training in kids is that it takes little time to reap the rewards. As few as two, 20-minute strength training sessions a week can produce profound results in any child. A simple yet effective program might include body weight squats, body weight push ups, body weight sit ups and water jug one arm pull ups. These four exercises can strengthen a child’s entire body.
It’s crucial that children have proper form when strength training. The most important aspect of proper form is using a slow and controlled speed of movement. The recommendation is to lift and lower in a minimum of five seconds, paying close attention to good breathing and attempting to reach a deep level of muscle fatigue. For example, if your son was doing the floor push ups, he’d start very slowly pressing his body upward to where his elbows were almost straight by the time you reach the count of five. Then he would take another five counts to lower himself down. He should continue until he could no longer complete another push up in good form. All of the other exercises would be performed in a similar manner.
Participating in a strength training program with your kids is a wonderful way to improve the health, strength and togetherness of your family. A family that trains together, stays together!
Healthy eating is important, too. Contrary to current dietary dogma, refined foods like breakfast cereals, pancakes, waffles, Pop-Tarts and other forms of commercially made foods are nutritionally void regardless of the little heart you may find on the food’s packaging. Real nutrition is in real food. If it once walked, crawled, flew or swam, or if it grew out of the ground and you could eat it without cooking it, it’s a real food. Feed these foods to your children and watch them flourish.