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Children and strength training - 6 myths busted

Children and strength training - 6 myths busted!
Strength training offers important health benefits for children and teens despite the many misconceptions surrounding safety. Physiotherapist Tim Dettmann helps us bust six of the most common myths.

"There are much greater health risks associated with physical inactivity given that only one in four kids aged five to 12 and one in 10 kids aged 13 to 17 meet our physical activity guidelines!

"We have a huge problem with physical inactivity and almost zero problems with injuries from resistance training," says Mr Dettmann.

Human beings grow on resistance, making strength training vital for the physical development of children and teens.

"It's so important. I don't think about whether I should do it. It's a given for 100 per cent of my young clients.

"Young muscles and bones respond in the same way as adults – they need to be stimulated for development.
"That's why I incorporate strength training of some description for all my clients. Just like in adults, this can be bodyweight exercises, TheraBand exercises, machine-based strength training or free weights."

There are many types of strength training for children and teens – even babies need to do strength training for their development, explains Mr Dettmann.

"Tummy time is a great early example of strength training. Babies need to develop the strength in their erector spinae muscles to be able to lie on their stomach – so we give it to them in small doses, and they get stronger.

"Strength training is important - learning to walk involves strength training.

"I'm currently supervising a strength training program for a thirteen-year-old rower at Kieser clinic.

"He sits down a lot at school, and his father has a history of back injury – so we're trying to get him into good movement habits early to prevent injury and help performance."

Benefits of strength training for children and teens

The Australian Government recommends strength-based exercise three times per week for children from age five, explains Mr Dettmann.

"This is because of the incredibly strong - pun intended - benefits of building strength when young!"

• Improved confidence and self-esteem
• Postural development
• Strong bones – building strong bones in children
• Decreased body fat – keep in mind that 25 per cent of Aussie kids are overweight
• Reduced injury rates when participating in sport
• Increased opportunity for social interaction
• Improved sports performance
• Decreased pain.


6 common strength training myths bused

Myths abound when it comes to children and strength training from the plausible to the impossible – Mr Dettmann busts them all.

1. Lifting weights stunts children's growth

This is the most common myth. Literally, no available evidence suggests this is the case! There is zero evidence of this occurring.

2. Training with weights harms children's bones

The opposite is true! Strength training is incredibly positive for children's bones! It makes them stronger and denser – a benefit made even more important because children retain this increased bone density into their adult years.

3. Lifting weights poses a high injury risk for children

Children should only start lifting weights when they have the maturity to follow instructions and behave safely. The same could be said for many adults. Being physically inactive is an exponentially greater risk for the health of children than strength training.

4. Children can't increase their strength as they lack testosterone

There are two crucial parts of busting this myth, says Mr Dettmann.

Strength comes from how much muscle mass you have and how efficient your neural system is at contracting that muscle.

Muscles are like factories, and factories can increase their output by a, being more efficient or b, recruiting more people (growing muscle). For adults and children alike – early strength gains come from greater efficiency of the neural system.

It is absolutely true that post-pubescent children have more testosterone. But it's a fallacy that young children (including girls) have zero. Boys and girls will increase their muscle mass by approximately 30 per cent between ages five and eight and again between eight and 11 - all before they hit puberty and their testosterone levels spike.

5. Lifting weights hinders the ability to build sport-specific skills

I honestly don't even know where this one comes from or where to start to address it. The opposite is true! Every young athlete over the age of five should do resistance-based exercise. It should be mandatory!

6. Strength training is only for young athletes

Strength training is for every young person that wants to grow up with good posture, strong bones, strong muscles and decrease their risk of injury or postural pain in the future.

What about the risks?

The risks of strength training for children and teens are small compared to the significant benefits to their health and development.

"There is no scientific evidence that strength training will have a negative effect on growth plates. In fact, strength training will have a positive effect on bone growth.

"The risks are mostly common-sense, such as falls and dropping weights."

Doing too much – just as is the case for adults, doing too much too quickly will increase the risk of overuse injury.

Bad technique – I strongly recommend supervision in 100 per cent of cases for children because bad technique can cause muscle strains or even more serious injuries – but this is equally true in adults.

High intensity – I do not recommend children do strength training to 100 per cent fatigue. The risk of injury here would increase without sufficient evidence of greater benefit.

"Strength training isn't all about free weights, loud music and big muscles.

"In my clinic this week, I'll supervise a thirteen-year-old patient and an 81-year-old patient through strength training programs: to help him develop and to stop her deteriorating – both with very low risk."

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.