By Liz Ostrowski

Lake Region Healthcare Sports Medicine

School sports are becoming more competitive every year and naturally, most parents want to push their kids to be the best they can be in their sports endeavors. I was watching a 4th grade youth football game this past weekend and if you just listened to the parents comments,  you would have thought you were watching a college football game. Parents are expecting kids to be able to throw a pass 30 yards to a running receiver  or as a dad said this weekend “level the boom” on another kid at a 4th grade football game.  We all need to realize kids are learning the fundamentals of the game at a young age and they are not all star athletes. Kids are having fun while learning a sport we hope they will like and excel in someday.

Part of becoming a good athlete is having a strength training program. Some parents think that strength training is not safe for their kids because of all the heavy weights, yet they want their kids to run and “level the boom” on an opponent. In reality, the gym is a controlled environment with a strength training professional supervising your child.  This is safer than a football field full of kids hitting one another without having mastered the skill of tackling yet. The ideal time for kids to start going to the weightlifting gym is at age 8 and up. The general rule of thumb is if you can put your child into organized sports like soccer, basketball, baseball, or youth football then your child is ready for strength training.

Strength training at a young age should be supervised by a strength training professional to ensure the exercises are done with proper technique. Your children will not be lifting heavy weights when they are 8 years old but they will be learning the movements with little to no weight. Getting a child to master a push-up, burpees, pull-ups, sit ups and squats without any weight will build a foundation for their muscles so when they are able to add weight they are at less risk to get injured. Kids at this age are not in the gym to build muscle and “bulk up.” Their bodies need to hit puberty before they can really build muscle mass. At the young ages, kids will gain strength by teaching their muscles to fully activate and properly move. They will begin to get stronger without building large amounts of muscle tissue.

Younger kids generally love going to the gym with mom, dad, or their older siblings. The most important thing is for kids to find strength training fun. When you expose your child to strength training at a young age they learn to enjoy it. Aside from improved athletic performance, parents have noticed kids who participate in strength training are more focused, have more confidence, and are all around happier kids. Some kids have even improved in school because of their new ability to focus. If your child has a good fitness foundation it can translate into other aspects of their life. There really isn’t any reason to hold your kid out of summer strength programs or off season strength programs because you think they are too young and don’t need it. Reality is they will benefit from strength training in more ways than just athletic performance and you’ll be teaching your child to have a healthy life style they will continue for years to come.

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