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Expert urges sensible strength training for kids.

QUEBEC CITY -- Children as young as 6 years old can benefit from carefully supervised strength training, which can lay the foundation for an athletic future, either in competition or as part of a healthy lifestyle, according to Avery Faigenbaum, Ed.D., of the department of health and exercise science at The College of New Jersey, Ewing.

"Medical organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the British Association of Sports and Exercise Science, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association support supervised and properly progressed youth strength training programs," said Dr. Faigenbaum in an interview. "But you might ask what are these children training for? They're training for whatever sport they want to do later in life because the skills they develop are transferable to anything they might choose to do."

While it has been argued that strength training in young children may simply increase the rate at which they reach their predetermined genetic potential, Dr. Faigenbaum said he does not believe this is the case. "I do believe that it is setting the stage for greater gains later on," he said at the joint annual meeting of the Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine and the Association Quebecoise des Medecins du Sport.

Overweight, nonathletic children also can derive significant benefit from strength training, he added. "Many of these children cannot do aerobic exercise, they cannot go out for a run or a jog or play soccer or basketball when they are 50 kg overweight. My personal experience has been that these kids actually love strength training because they're often the strongest in their class, it's not overly taxing, and it's more consistent with how they move."

Evidence suggests that even in the absence of weight loss, strength training may decrease obese children's risk of diabetes. One recent study in overweight boys found that strength training significantly improved insulin sensitivity independent of changes in body composition (Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2006;38:1208-15). "What that tells us is that there's something going on in the muscle that's really benefiting these boys and girls who are at risk of developing diabetes," he said.

Dr. Faigenbaum is a strong advocate of child-friendly strength training programs which are aimed at hooking children in for the long term. "It's quite easy to increase the strength of a child. But the real question is, will it stick? It has to be enjoyable and fun. We really have to look at the process of how we're getting kids to move," he said. "There [are] lots of different ways children can resistance train, from medicine balls to child-sized equipment, to barbells and dumbbells and elastic bands."

He advocates the "instant activity" warm-up, a dynamic program as opposed to static stretching, because "kids need to move right away." Several studies by his group have found that this type of warm-up is associated with between 2% and 10% better performance levels, compared with static stretching (J. Strength Cond. Res. 2007;21:52-6); (J. Athl. Train. 2006; 41:357-63).

A twice-weekly strength training program starting with moderate weights and one set of 10-15 repetitions is "a good place to start," he advised. In a study of children aged 5-12 years, he found that, compared with controls who did no strength training, those who did either one set of 6-8 repetitions with a heavy load twice weekly, or one set of 13-15 repetitions with a moderate load, increased their muscular strength and endurance by 31% and 41%, respectively (Pediatrics 1999;104:e5).

"No scientific evidence suggests that sensible training will stunt the growth of children or damage their growth plates. In fact, recent findings suggest that weight-bearing physical activity (and strength training) is essential for normal bone growth and development," he said. However, trained supervision is strongly advised.


Montreal Bureau
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Title Annotation:Clinical Rounds
Author:Johnson, Kate
Publication:Pediatric News
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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