Most children at the elementary school ages don’t need to be participating in strength training. Unstructured free play is a great exercise program for this age range. Monkey bars on the playground, hopping on one foot to be silly, playing freeze tag, crawling on all fours or climbing are just a few of the many ways children build strength through play. Children should never be started on a strength training program unless they are sincerely interested — and ideally the program is a fun group activity.
If your child is interested in taking up strength training, ask your child’s coach or a personal trainer experienced with youth to offer some pointers and create a safe, effective training program based on your child’s individual abilities. Programs should include not only strength training, but proper warmups — such as walking or jogging in place for five to 10 minutes — and cool-downs, such as gentle stretching.
With proper instruction and supervision, kids who are interested may be able to engage in more-formal strength training around age 7 or 8. Strength training might include using light resistance bands, lifting light free weights, working out on machines and doing modified push-ups, where the knees are kept on the floor.
This type of training shouldn’t be confused with activities such as bodybuilding or powerlifting, which focus on making muscles bigger or lifting maximum weights. Before kids go through puberty and experience hormonal changes it’s difficult to gain significantly larger muscles. Strength training at this age focuses on increasing muscle coordination and endurance, not bulking up. If your child has any health issues, check with his or her medical provider first before embarking on a strength training regimen.
This content originally appeared in the Mayo Clinic Guide to Raising a Healthy Child.