With all the emphasis currently being placed on childhood obesity in America, medical professionals as well as parents, teachers, and coaches are looking for ways to help children stay fit and lose excess weight.
One of the suggestions being recommended is a weight training program, which begs the question, how young should you start weight training?
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Before answering this question it's important to draw a distinction between weight training and weight lifting.
Weight training is a sub-set of strength training designed to create lean and toned muscles. It is not concentrated on muscle size or appearance.
By contrast, weight lifting is a specific set of exercises intended to build muscle mass and a sculpted physique.
Is there a limit to how young you should start weight training?
According to the Mayo Clinic, weight training is a practice that can be started as soon as a child has developed the proper coordination to carry out minimal exercises fluidly.
Medical experts mostly agree that beginning weight training exercises at an early age not only makes for good physical fitness, but also develops habits in children that will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle into their adult years.
Weight training for young children doesn't have to be anything complicated or costly, either.
Simply teaching a child to repeatedly pick up a heavier toy is enough to get him started.
When children reach the age of five or six, you can begin introducing free weights designed just for them.
Again, nothing complicated or extreme; just enough to keep them exercising.
What are some of the dangers associated with youth weight training?
Experts agree that there are some dangers in exposing youngsters to weight training if their bodies are subjected to too much stress. Things like muscles, tendons, and ligaments do not fully develop in children until they reach puberty.
Putting too much stress on the body at too young an age can result in devastating injuries that may have lifelong consequences.
For this reason you should never introduce a weight lifting regimen to a young child. Weight lifting puts excessive stress on muscles in order to build them quickly. But such excessive stress could rupture a tendon or shred a ligament to the point where damage can only be corrected surgically.
Weight training on the other hand, provides just enough stress on the muscles to give them adequate work.
Does the question of weight training age have any relation to some of the other benefits?
Some of the other benefits of a weight training workout plan include:
- Healthy bone structure
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Healthy body weight
- Lower blood pressure
- Increased metabolism
- Healthy confidence and self-esteem
Some of these benefits can be realized by starting a weight training program with a young child. Others will not become evident until reaching puberty or adulthood.
Increased metabolism and healthy self-esteem are two of the added benefits that are evident as soon as you begin the weight training program. As to how young you should start weight training in order to maximize these benefits, the question really is irrelevant. Increased metabolism means the child's body will consume calorie intake at a higher level than it would without the weight training. This helps keep excess fat off and maintain a healthy weight level. Additionally, when a child looks and feels good, his self-esteem will naturally be greater than one who looks and feels unhealthy.
Benefits such as healthy bones and low cholesterol and blood pressure really don't come into play that much in a normal, healthy child. These are things we are more affected by after puberty. However, beginning a weight training program at an early age helps develop habits that your child will carry with him all his life.
For me, the question is not how young you should start weight training, but rather, how old is too old?
You're never too old to begin a weight training program. That said, older people should always consult their doctors before beginning any weight training or strength training program. You want to be sure your body is healthy enough to endure the exercise, and you also need to know what exercises are right for you. As long as your doctor gives you the okay, weight training can be just as productive for you as it is for a young child.