In the past decade there has been an increased interest in resistance training in schools.
Thanks to sufficient research on the subject, it's now easy for parents and teachers to recognise the direct benefits of resistance training for kids as a safe and viable sport.
In the past, there have been misconceptions about resistance training for children, with reports citing it may stunt the growth of a child and is therefore not suitable for children under 12 years of age, but there is no evidence to support these statements.
In the UK, there are many organisations and schools promoting strength training for children providing the basic guidelines are adhered to and there is an experienced instructor leading the training.
The recommended age for children to begin strength training in schools is usually around the age of seven or eight, when children are more proficient in following instructions.
What is resistance training?
Resistance training is the practice of using free weights and rubber resistance bands or body weight to build muscles. With the addition of resistance into a training programme, muscles have to work harder to move, making them grow stronger and more efficient. Resistance training should not be confused with weight lifting, bodybuilding and power lifting, all of which are not recommended for children and teenagers.
What are the benefits of resistance training in schools?
Similarly to adults, there are many benefits to strength training for kids. Making an early start into sports such as strength training will provide children with an incentive to continue exercising in their future lives. Below are some further benefits of resistance training in schools:
- Children who have taken part in strength training have shown noticeable improvements in their muscular mass, bone mineral density, body composition, motor fitness performance and injury resistance, but it is the social aspect of the sport that initially compels a younger child.
- Strength training can promote self-improvement and individual success, not to mention the fun element to the sport - the main motivating factor for many children.
- Children who participate in strength training have shown significant improvements in self-esteem, mental discipline and socialisation skills.
- Strength training can help prevent injuries and speed up recovery.
- Unlike team sports, strength training provides an opportunity for child who typically struggle with group activities, to stand out from their classmates and perform well individually.
- Overweight and obese children have the chance to excel in resistance training as it relies on muscular strength, boosting self-esteem for children who may need it the most.
How to encourage resistance training in schools
The attitude of a resistance training instructor is of the utmost importance when working with children. PE teachers must therefore learn to start slowly and focus more on underestimating the strength of children as opposed to over-estimating it. It is not only safer to work in this way, but it allows children plenty of room for progress.
Strength training for children should not just be a scaled down version of the adult's training, a program should be designed specifically for children which shows them the proper techniques, safety precautions and how to use the equipment. In general, as children get older and stronger, they can gradually increase the amount of resistance they use.
Promoting the development of good form and encouraging children to become familiar with the basics of strength-training is key to the successful training of younger children.
Children love to learn new things, so introducing them to a variety of exercises and different types of resistance is key. Working with products such as medicine balls and speed resistors as well as the more traditional free weights is a good idea and will help ensure all of the major muscle groups are addressed and a full and balanced work-out is achieved.
The goals when teaching children resistance training in schools are simple, to be safe, have fun and to help to promote physical activity.