Play It Safe: Fitness for Kids

Experts advocate resistance and plyometric training for kids, with one universal caveat: It must be done correctly. Here are guidelines for safe, effective workouts.

Is it necessary for kids to train for skiing? No. “But it would be helpful,” says Dr. Bareket Falk, an associate professor of physical education and kinesiology at Brock University in Ontario. Due to research by Falk and others, the American Academy of Pediatrics now considers resistance training to be good children when supervised and done correctly. Here are the guidelines:

When to Start: Although children as young as 6 have been shown to benefit from resistance training, some experts suggest waiting until age 7 or 8 when balance and posture control skills mature to adult levels. The main issue, however, isn’t age, but rather maturity, says Dr. Falk, also a pediatric exercise researcher. “The child has to be able to follow safety instructions and take responsibility for what he’s doing,” she explains. All kids should also get a doctor’s OK before starting a training program.

How to Start: The key word is “gradual.” It might seem too easy at first, but it’s important to increase training load and volume slowly, Falk says (no more than 5 to 10 percent per week). The emphasis should be on proper form, not strength or performance gains. And when children are first learning, they should receive instruction from a professional trained to work with kids. Even when they become proficient, kids should always be supervised during workouts.

How Much to Do: Aim for two or three workouts per week on nonconsecutive days. Practice proper form for a session or two before adding light resistance. Then start with one set of 10 to 15 reps of each exercise, and gradually progress to two or three sets of eight to 15 repetitions. Studies show that, unlike adults, children can increase their maximal strength using high repetitions and lighter weights, Falk says.

What to Use: Weight machines can help children gain basic strength and learn proper form, but only use child-sized machines that are well-maintained. (For a list of gyms with kids equipment, click here.) Children can also start with or progress to body weight, free weight or medicine ball exercises, as long as they have appropriate supervision and instruction.