Should kids lift weights?
Well not by themselves. I think we can go ahead and say that’s a bad idea. Even at 12 I was still going for that last repetition and finding myself in situations like THIS. Not a good time.
But don’t you remember years ago that everyone thought you’d be a midget if you so much as looked at a barbell before puberty? Is it true?
Like many cultural beliefs, it’s a silly idea based on next to nothing. From what I understand, some kids working in grueling sweat shop conditions were found to be shorter than average, so that means lifting weights damages growth plates? Funny. Actually, I’m pretty sure burning calories for 10 hours at a time prevents proper growth due to the inability to achieve a caloric surplus during the developmental period. See gymnasts.
I began rethinking this kind of thing a couple of years ago. It was a culmination of things really. One thing that got me started was’that my girlfriend’s daughter was out hiking with us and dragging ass and being whiny. I approached the situation by talking about how hiking up big hills made for stronger legs. I touched her leg as she walked and then jerked my hand back as if I were in excruciating pain.
Drag assery gone, and lots of smiles and giggles in its place and demands to repeat this absurd act, which was nice at the time. Unfortunately for the last two years, every time Emily does something that could be perceived as productive, she demands that I touch whatever body part has been used and then wince in pain and beg her to stop before she inflicts?further harm. This includes spelling flash cards and the deadly cranium of hers that ensues after a thick stack. Damn homeschool evaluation coming up soon. We gotta pretend like we’ve been studying something?other than Flash Gordon for the past 11 months.
Anyway, it got me thinking that the kid sure likes being strong. It might be fun to have this kid go all beast mode. And then I found the Stroe brothers. Dear Lord…
Believe me. That video ain’t nothin’. Go dig up some more and you’ll see stuff you never in your wildest dreams thought possible.
With those two things already seeding my subconscious mind, I really felt it was time to explore it a little further when Emily attempted her first situp and failed. Seriously. Kid couldn’t do one situp, one pushup, or one pullup. I’m no fitness fanatic or anything, but that just seemed inexcusable. And so we began.
And I must say, after being fairly regular with some kiddie strength training since this spring, I’m in shock. There are a lot of complaints about how today’s kids are not physically fit and can no longer pass the basic physical education tests from the old days. There’s really no excuse for this. Kids can go from sacks of jelly to abnormally strong with an absurdly small amount of work and at lightning speed.
Emily does a strength-specific workout about once every 10 days. It lasts less than 10 minutes and includes 1 set of just a few basic exercises: deadlifts, pushups, squats, situps, pulldowns, and shoulder presses–in that order–with little rest in between exercises.
Yeah it’s tough. Yeah I get all Bela Karolyi on her ass for 10 minutes a few times a month. But the results are just phenomenal. Every workout the progress is almost hard to believe compared to the last. Just in the last?8-10 workouts’she’s gone from truly executing her first perfect pushup to now ripping through 15. Her inability to do one situp has morphed into 25 with ease with fingertips at her temples and elbows wide.
Next week she’ll be doing pulldowns with 70 pounds, as 60 was far too easy this week. Deadlifts with 85 pounds (up about 30 pounds). The kid is 8 years old. It’s nuts. Six months ago we were play fighting all the time, and I’m having to make her quit doing it completely, as she punches like a damn sledgehammer now. No really. It hurts.
If you have kids, access to a little basic equipment, and are comfortable helping them perform some strength training with good form, I think you should go for it. To me this seems like the physical equivalent of trying to teach your kid a 2nd language at age 3 when they soak that up like a sponge. Kids have a remarkable ability to gain strength, and gain it with minimal increases in actual muscle mass.
They are also less likely to get injured with their little rubber bodies, and that strong foundation built will be with them for life. I noticed this long ago when my former-gymnast ex-girlfriend bested some dudes in a handstand competition. These guys worked out all the time and she maybe did yoga once a week. She popped up on her hands and lasted two and half minutes while the two jacked dudes she went up against were collapsed on the ground beside her. Nothing beats that early developmental stuff.
What’s cool is that it doesn’t take 2 hours of grueling exercise daily to gain strength. It doesn’t take expensive gymnastics class and commuting all over town after work to drop junior off. 5-10 minutes once a week is all it takes to go from abnormally weak to abnormally strong in six months for a young kid if you do it in a productive, progress-oriented way. I’m bummed I didn’t have better guidance in my youth, as I just aimlessly followed those 3 sets of 10 regimens that never really got me significant strength increases.
Anyway, I’ll certainly be reporting where Emily is by age 10 and beyond, as I monitor her progress from week to week. She will truly be able to back up the “My kid beat up your honor student” bumper sticker claim. As an eternal foe of all things scholastic, this makes me happy.
If you are interested in how strength training might affect your child, real investigation into the matter from a health point-of-view has revealed nothing but benefits. Snoop around some if you have any doubts. Here’s a good introduction to the conversation HERE.
First the worst .. second the best!!!
I started lifting 5# dumbbells in my room at age 11 and went from there. No stunted growth (I’m as tall as the tallest man on either side). My dad always said that it was cool that even though I was so tall so early–5’8″ in 6th grade–I was never gangly like the other kids who grew tall early.
Misconceptions about training youth article here: http://www.lonkilgore.com/ssyouth.pdf . This is for those who believe in the urban myths about moving heavy things being bad for all children EXCEPT apparently the farm boys and farm girls who grow up big and strong.
If you want a weak kid, don’t let them do anything that tests their strength on a regular basis. If you want a strong kid, they have to do things that build strength. As said in the article, it takes an amazingly small amount of work to do this…but it does take SOMETHING.
my son is 11.5 and has been a competitive gymnast since he was 9. the entire time he’s been swinging his body weight, plus whatever is added by physics, over and over for hours at at time. interestingly enough, his coaches do not allow them to lift weights. also, during meet season, they are asked not to do any swimming. not fun when there are pools at the hotels where we stay while competing at said meets.
This is awesome! thanks for posting this
1. i was nervous about my kids lifting my 5lb dumbells while i was working out. i thought they’d hurt themselves (besides dropping on their toes)
2. i love that you homeschool, we do too!!!! that’s even more awesome! and i especially loved this: “Damn homeschool evaluation coming up soon. We gotta pretend like we’ve been studying something other than Flash Gordon for the past 11 months.” we are very eclectic in our homeschooling (we unschool i guess) and most don’t understand i don’t use a set curriculum that costs hundreds of dollars. :-)
I think it was in a Malcolm Gladwell book (Outliers) but he talked about how world record sprinters are usually the youngest child in large families. the theory is they have to run faster at a younger age to keep up with their siblings. the extra effort/intensity builds the base, which along with training and good genetics makes them Olympic champs.
I am not making a “10,000 hour rule” for sprinting, just that the super elite also get a good does of nature. The old adage of “you can train to get faster, but you can never train to be fast.”
I’ve gotta get the boy on some strength training. He has the interest. He’s constantly messing with my dumbells and kettle bells. I like the idea of a little 10 minute fitness blast a couple times a month. He is really into climbing so I will put it to him that he will be able to climb better if he gets stronger. Anything that ups his metabolism is going to be good for him.
His climbing should definitely get better, and when he makes the connection between the strength training and improvement there he’ll really enjoy his little strength sessions. The enjoyment can be magnified further by listening to Pocket Calculator on repeat during the workout.
Maybe Kraftwerk in rotation with Daft Punk, since their his new fave. Still staying in the arena of Arty Euro Electronica bands though…We did do a little training last week. I slyly left my exercise mat and kettlebell out in the TV room where he couldn’t miss it. So far so good…
That’s a pretty natural evolution in musical taste. I started my girlfriend’s daughter on We are the Robots at age 5 and now she’ll listen to Around the World on repeat.
Matt, what did you base her regimen on? Is it a mini version of something for adults, or is that kind of strength training just as effective for adults?
For straight strength development it’s basically in keeping with Doug McGuff’s “minimum effective dose” theme in Body By Science, as well as the minimalist amount of movements and complications. Although I find the sets don’t need to be super slow and grueling to still be effective. It works great for strength for me personally, as do other similarly-inspired regimens like doing partials and static holds. If I only stuck with it I might actually be strong by now, lol.
I think the most important thing to monitor is that strength increases with each exercise after each workout. If that’s your goal, you may very well find, as I have, that less is more.
I think it is not necessary that you’re stronger with each exercise, just that your strength has an upward trend over the course of two or three months. There are better days and worse days. But I guess you’re right that with kids this shouldn’t be a much of an issue. DS is five, I guess I have approx 2 years to buy equipment
I think a properly-programmed strength-specific program should result in progress on EVERY single workout. If there isn’t, the workouts are likely to be spaced too close together. A bad day means you likely aren’t fully recovered from your last workout.
Stronger on every workout ?!! Where will it end ??
That will be terrible ! You will end 300 kg of muscle !!! When ?
Getting stronger doesn’t add much bulk for most, especially young children, and especially women. But you should be able to add strength each workout. Of course, as time goes by, the incremental increases in strength will be smaller, and workouts will have to be spaced out farther and farther. But some noticeable progress should be made each time for many years. When plateaus hit, training modifications should be made.
Trouble with such a program would be – what is it? Is there anyone who had been able to follow it and progress for years without failing? :)
http://www.bodybyscience.net/home.html/?p=1396 here’s an interesting discussion by the end of the post related to ideal performance, by Dr. McGuff himself
I get the impression that Emily takes an interest in the training because she sees her main adults interested in it. I notice that with my kid, whatever we do, he wants to do, no matter how heavy or dangerous the thing is.
We’re farmers and don’t do equipment based training as such, plenty of heavy physical work to do and I don’t usually stop my little boy trying to lift stuff, though mostly he can’t. recently a friend told me her one got a hernia at a young age from lifting heavy stuff. Something to bear in mind?
I think she liked the idea of it, did it once, and then was like “screw this, it’s hard.” Like Ronnie Coleman says, “Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder. Ain’t nobody wanna lift no heavy ass weight!”
So I can’t say she’s all excited about it. But she is really happy about being stronger. She hung out with her six cousins over 4rth of July and is now noticeably stronger than all of them. Even the older boys. I think she likes that a lot. I also saw her throwing an annoying kid that used to pick on her in the pool the other day, so her confidence is going up with it.
I love this, Matt! I’ve got a bunch of kids that are going to be getting busy. The only down side is that they are going to be even more hungry then they are now!
This makes me feel good that my husband recently took it upon himself to work with two of our children on strength training. He had already reduced his workout from 1-2 hours down to 15 minutes and some stretching. He is showing them his exercises, focusing on proper form above all else. They are doing great, and they get to spend some special time with daddy. They are 8 and 10 years old. :)
When would be a good age to start a strength training ‘programme’? I have 6 nippers aged almost 10 to 2 months. All except youngest love monkey bars and the 2yo lad is built like a bodybuilder without any guidance/intervention. His preferred way to move is 2 footed jumps….
Ordered parts to repair the grandsons’ yard trampoline. Probably just in time. The four year old has been jumping up and down when he talks for the last week. They’ve all got hard bodies and otherwise are couch potatoes, playing while sitting or lying on the floor. I’ve read rebounding/trampoline exercises everything at the same time. Haven’t proven it by me as I am not consistent using my rebounder for any length of time or days….even days on or off. I’ve watched the four year old by himself (the preferred use of the trampoline) and he works himself hard on it.
Matt, have you ever come across the “Gym Movement” exercise protocol by Frankie Faires and Adam Glass? As I work my way through your various publications, I am finding your outlook very similar to theirs. They have developed a novel way to use biofeedback as a simple guide to exercise selection, duration, frequency, etc., achieving “perpetual progress” and “a PR with every workout” (they are very flexible about what constitutes a PR!in a good way).
Though I have this deep-down feeling that their ROM biofeedback test is ultimately a placebo and that similar results could be obtained by a coin flip (but not, because you wouldn’t BUY IN to it), they seem to have great results, including strongman Adam Glass’ strength-feat records achieved on years of GM-only training. I have only tried it a little?haven’t been in a big exercise mode since finding them. The best thing about it was that it was fun and interesting and NOT monotonous! And you could plug in whatever form of exercise/machine/lump-of-iron/gymnastics you felt like.
I am curious whether you have looked into Gym Movement and how it strikes you. Could be a great fitness “plug in” for your work. (No, I am not affiliated with them at all, just very struck at what looks like a compatible combo here.)
Dr. Garrett Smith is all about dat gymnastics-style training, and I expect to see some kind of article from him about it soon. Compatible indeed my friend!