You are on page 1of 6

Strength training guidelines for children - CEU Corner

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
recommend strength training for children as young as six years old. In general, if a child is old enough to
participate in organized sports, he or she is ready for a strength training program. Contrary to a popular
misconception, there is no evidence that an age-appropriate strength training program, done under
qualified supervision, is detrimental to a child. In fact, research has shown strength training helps children
maintain a healthy body weight, benefits skeletal and joint development as well as improves sports
performance. ACSM reported that strength training programs can prevent as many as 50 percent of all
preadolescent sports injuries. Furthermore, Dr. Avery Faigenbaum, a leading research scientist in the
children and strength training field, recently reported that for over 17 years he and colleagues conducted
strength training classes for children, ages six to 12, without a single injury.
Among the general developmental benefits of strength training is its ability to increase bone mineral
density, thereby decreasing the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. In 1994, Welton and
colleagues showed the skeleton is most responsive to strength training benefits during growth. This means
strength training is most beneficial for young women before the age of 16 and young men before the age
of 18. Evidently, the benefits acquired are long term. Post-menopausal women suffered fewer hip fractures
if they had engaged in weight-bearing activity as young girls.
In addition to decreasing the risk of osteoporosis, strength training:
* strengthens ligaments and tendons
* readies soft tissues to produce the forces associated with play, making them more pliable and resistant
to external forces
* improves motor fitness skills, such as jumping and sprinting, which are often required in sports
As with any physical activity, certain precautions should be taken for the participant's safety. Adult
strength training guidelines and programs should not be applied to children. Therefore, a child should not
do spine-loading exercises (e.g., a squat under a bar) or engage in bodybuilding due to its risks to the
growth plates and spine. Under no circumstances should a child who has not reached skeletal maturity
(i.e., Tanner stage 5; typically at age 15 for girls and age 17 for boys) perform a maximum weight lift or
any ballistic movements seen in Olympic weightlifting and power lifting. Every trainer must remember that
special care must be taken when placing loads and demands on a developing muscular skeletal system. To
aid practitioners who work with children in strength training settings, ACSM and AAP offer basic guidelines.
Guidelines for a Children's Strength Training Program
* The program should include at least one exercise for all major muscle groups.
* Children should learn movements without weight first.
* The program should be done on non-consecutive days.
* The child should perform one to three sets of each exercise. Each set should include six to 15
* Set weights for individual participants within developmentally appropriate boundaries.
* Once a child has mastered an exercise with weight, additional weight can be added in 5 percent
increments (typically one to five pounds) every seven to 10 days.

Since children are not small adults, they should not do exercises on adult-sized machines. Although youthsized equipment is available, few gyms offer these machines. Therefore, as a general rule, trainers should
use dumbbell exercises for children. The additional advantage of dumbbell exercises is that they can be
done in limited space. Following are recommended dumbbell exercises, along with the major muscle
groups worked.
Most children do not have strength training experience and will need to be taught basic exercises. When
instructing, keep in mind that children learn through repetition. Therefore, choose the exercises you want
the child to learn and have him or her repeat them during each session until he or she has mastered
them. This may take one or several weeks. Focus on form and technique and give the child feedback on
how he or she did the exercise at the end of each repetition. Also, correct one problem at a time, think
safety first and always say something positive before anything critical.
Trainer's Tips
* Pay close attention to form.
* Be patient. Do not expect children to learn exercises quickly.
* Use a four-count system, two counts for the up phase and two counts for the down phase, to keep a
movement slow and controlled.
* Teach the child what muscle is working by using touch--place your hand on the child's muscle and tell
him or her to squeeze where your hand is.
Because strength training is structured similar to play (i.e., periods of high-energy activity alternated with
longer periods of rest), it can be fun for children. A trainer can build upon this by incorporating a few ideas
that appeal to them. First, children like to know what they have accomplished. Chart the child's progress
using such variables as a skill learned, weight lifted or number of repetitions. Second, have the child keep
an exercise journal. Ask him or her to write his or her least and most favorite exercises or anything else
he or she wants to share. Lastly, keep in mind that children like variation and to have a say in what they
do. Ask the child to decide what exercise he or she wants to perform next or, when appropriate, if he or
she would like to try a variation of an exercise. The key is to make the child's strength training time fun.
Each child is an individual and you, as the trainer, will have to decide what works for each.
When done under proper, qualified supervision, strength training can be both beneficial and fun for
children. Children today are inactive and need to get moving. Strength training is a fun way to build
skeletal and muscle strength as well as improve self-esteem and confidence. Get children involved in
strength training today and on the right track to a healthy, active lifestyle.
QUESTIONS: Code No. 0060
"Strength Training Guidelines for Children"
1. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
recommend strength training for children --.
A. as young as four years old
B. when a parent decides the child is ready
C. as young as six years old
D. as young as ten years old

2. Children who strength train build strong ligaments and tendons, improve -- and are -- likely to
experience a sports or recreation injury.
A. motor fitness skills; less
B. motor fitness skills; more
C. hand-eye coordination; less
D. hand-eye coordination; more
3. ACSM reported that strength training programs could prevent as many as -- of all preadolescent
A. 30 percent
B. 40 percent
C. 50 percent
D. 60 percent
4. Strength training increases -- and decreases the risk of developing -- later in life.
A. bone mineral density; osteoporosis
B. hip fractures; osteoporosis
C. bone mineral density; menopause
D. hip fractures; menopause
5. The skeleton is most responsive to strength training benefits -- growth.
A. after
B. before
C. during
D. before, during and after
6. -- is a motor fitness skill improved by strength training.
A. Hand-eye coordination
B. Tricep kickback
C. Jumping
D. None of the above.

7. The -- is an exercise children should not do.

A. bicep curl
B. shoulder press
C. squat under a loaded bar
D. abdominal crunch
8. According to the Tanner stages of development, children reach skeletal maturity at age -- for girls and
age -- for boys.
A. 17; 15
B. five; 7
C. 15; 17
D. 17; unknown
9. The ACSM and AAP recommend that strength training programs for children include at least -exercise(s) for all major muscle groups, -- sets of each exercise and -- repetitions.
A. two; one to three; six to 15
B. one; three to five; six to 15
C. one; one to three; six to 15
D. one; one to three; four to eight
10. Children should learn an exercise -- weight first and strength train on -- days.
A. with; non-consecutive
B. without; consecutive
C. without; non-consecutive
D. with or without; consecutive
11. Once a child has mastered an exercise with weight, a trainer can add additional weight in -increments every seven to 10 days.
A. 5 to 10 percent
B. 5 percent
C. less than 5 percent
D. more than 10 percent

12. Children learn through --.

A. speed
B. practicing without supervision
C. repetition
D. critical feedback alone
13. It may take -- for a child to learn an exercise.
A. one hour
B. one day
C. one or several weeks
D. one repetition
14. A trainer should think-first and always say something -- before anything --.
A. form; critical; positive
B. weight; positive; critical
C. safety; positive; critical
D. safety; negative; positive
15. Use a counting system to keep movements --.
A. slow and consistent
B. fast and controlled
C. slow and controlled
D. slow and rhythmic

Recommended Dumbbell Exercises for Children

Standing squats


Quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals


Quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals

Heel raise




Lying back

Erector spinae

Lateral shoulder
Deltoids and upper trapezius
Shoulder presses
Bicep curls

Deltoids, triceps and upper trapezius


Tricep kickbacks


Bench press

Pectoralis major and triceps


Latissimus dorsi and biceps

American Academy of Pediatrics. Committee on Sports Medicine. Strength Training by Children and
Adolescents. June 2001.
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Current Comment 'Youth Strength Training.' March 1998.
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). "The prevention of sports injuries of children and
adolescents." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 1993, 25 (8, Supplement), 1-7.
Welton, D.C., Kemper, H.C., Post, G.B., et al. "Weight-bearing activity during youth is a more important
factor for peak bone mass than calcium intake." Journal of Bone Mineral Research, 1994, 9(7), 1089-96.
Amy Ashmore, Ph.D., earned a doctorate in kinesiology from the University of Texas at Austin. She can be
reached at