The Art and Science of Fitness | Is resistance training bad for kids?

The reaction of most doctors, when asked about resistance training in children, is to frown and discourage them from doing it. Apparently resistance training isn’t safe for them, slows bone growth, makes girls bulky, and isn’t necessary for non-athletes. But is it so?

However, this answer is wrong and unacceptable because, as health professionals, the responsibility for these matters rests with us. Some might argue that doctors are supposed to focus only on disease and not on promoting good health among the non-sick. But then, prevention doesn’t sell, even though it’s an important component of health care. Doctors should stop behaving like policemen waiting for you to jump the fire to give you a fine, and should instead be at the fire only to prevent such actions from us.

You’ll be surprised that the role of resistance training in children and youth is mentioned in the 2022 edition of Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, a medical reference textbook familiar to doctors around the world. He mentions, in no uncertain terms, that children from the age of six should engage in muscle-strengthening physical activities, which include resistance training, at least three days a week. This should be combined with about an hour of aerobic exercise per day. Unfortunately, less than 20% of European teenagers and less than 5% of Colombian teenagers comply with these recommendations.

Of course, some health situations require consultation with my medical colleagues before starting. But for that, they need to understand the role of resistance training. Nowadays, physicians are increasingly aware of the importance of this form of training.

The biggest misconception is that resistance training is all about lifting weights and dumbbells. It’s not. Different types of bodyweight movements can be implemented from an early age, in a “playful” format, encouraging children to be active throughout the day.

Another big myth is that girls get bulkier with this training. However, the strength gained from resistance training in children is mainly due to neuromuscular adaptations, i.e. more nerve cells are activated and become part of the pathway by which impulses pass from the brain or spinal cord to muscle. And contrary to popular belief, resistance training does not reduce aerobic performance because it helps strengthen our muscles which, in turn, helps move our joints and thus makes us better at endurance sports.

Of course, there’s bodybuilding, where weightlifting is done for the specific purpose of increasing muscle size, symmetry, and definition. And then there’s weightlifting, a competitive sport that involves maximum lifting capacity. We do not recommend strength training or weightlifting for children and teens unless they want to compete.

The very first resistance training we all do is when we take that first breath of air, without which we wouldn’t be alive. Our lungs have to expand against the surrounding environment to let in air. This is exactly what happens when babies cry right after they are born. And if they don’t cry, the midwife does the very first corporal punishment: the child has to be slapped on the back, and most often the baby sucks in the air before releasing it with a very high note. of height that would put even the best of opera singers to shame.

Shortly after that first breath, there are new resistance training milestones that babies achieve. In the very first month, while lying on their stomachs, babies raise their heads. During the second month, they can hold their head and lift their head and shoulders. Later, they may be able to bring their hands – and some, even their feet – to their mouths. And by month three, some major milestones are reached: babies can proudly hold their heads steady as they begin to cycle with their hands and feet. And above all, when they are on their stomach, they do their first push-ups. And for some reason, as adults, we have trouble doing this basic movement.

Pediatricians and parents are excited about all of these steps, but surprisingly, when it comes to kids doing resistance training, they become the biggest resistance. All of these movements are resistance exercises because the baby resists gravity and moves against it, which is crucial for healthy growth and development.

It is often suggested that resistance training be withheld until adolescence or after school, but this is illogical. When kids can follow directions, they’re ready to safely continue doing resistance training, which is what most kids are ready to do by age 5 to 7. Having already been encouraged to be active, all new resistance training moves come naturally to them. When instructions are followed and resistance training sessions are performed under supervision, it not only greatly reduces the risk of injury during exercise, but also prevents injuries from occurring when playing any sport at all levels.

Children who engage in resistance training are less likely to experience neck, back, and knee pain than many of their parents probably experience. Also, as we age, for quality of life, strength is much more important, even though walking, or nowadays running, is considered the only thing necessary to be in good shape.

The benefits of resistance training during childhood and adolescence aren’t just limited to obvious muscle shape and improved fundamental movement, but it also builds strong bones. And no, it doesn’t retard height – one of the biggest myths. It also improves heart and metabolic health, making the child’s body more fuel efficient and increasing the metabolic rate, which keeps body weight in check and reduces the risk of sports injuries. All of this helps them perform at their optimum level and as posture improves they become much more confident in life, which is not only important for athletes but for all children.

When resistance training isn’t done, the gap between weaker and stronger kids widens. Here, I’ve built a case on why resistance training is important and safe for kids and teens. Next week I will discuss how this should be done.

Keep smiling and smiling.

Dr. Rajat Chauhan is the author of MoveMint Medicine: Your Journey to Peak Health and La Ultra: cOuch to 5, 11 & 22 kms in 100 days

He writes a weekly column, exclusively for HT Premium readers, that breaks down the science of movement and exercise.

Opinions expressed are personal

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