Kids in the Weight Room

July 15th, 2011 by rebeccac

His name is Giuliano Stroe, and next week he’ll be seven years old.

He has a seven-year-old face, too – soft, big-eyed, young. The rest of his body, though, doesn’t quite match. In fact, it doesn’t look like a child’s physique at all – it belongs, instead, to a 30-year-old bodybuilder competing in the Arnold Classic. He’s been training since he was around four years old and has already reportedly broken records for number of air pushups, longest time as a “human flag,” fastest 10-meter hand-walk with a weight ball between his legs – y’know … kids’ stuff. His father, who trains him, has posted YouTube videos of Romanian-born Guiliano working out, and they are spreading quickly. He’s beyond ripped, beyond strong, and he’s creating a lot of new debate on an old topic.

Isn’t it bad for children to lift weights?
First off, let’s real quick define what we mean here when we say “lifting weights.” It’s actually kind of a broad term that can mean anything from competitive Olympic bodybuilding to bicep curls with that set of economical 10-pound dumbbells you keep in the closet for those days you can’t get to the gym. For the purposes of this piece, let’s assume that when I say “weightlifting,” I’m talking more about the latter than the former – simply anaerobic forms of strength training for health purposes without any significant goal toward bodybuilding in any of its varied forms, either for competition or recreation.

The idea that children and weightlifting were the fitness version of oil and water has been around so long that I didn’t even know where it came from or why I believed it to be true. It was just a fact, reinforced everywhere by anecdotes and the doctor recommendations and the age requirements at gyms – usually 12-14 years old before you could be there and even then only with a parent.

The truth is the idea first appeared in the 1970s after a research study in Japan found that child laborers were abnormally shorter than their non-laboring counterparts. They concluded that the hours of heavy lifting stunted their growth, and this morphed into kids + weightlifting = bad, a concept which entrenched itself into popular culture. It became common knowledge: Until they hit puberty, children were still growing and throwing weights around compacts their bodies, inhibits bone development and damages their growth plates. Period. End of discussion.

Except that it’s not. Not by a long shot. In fact, a 2010 study published in the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics claims just the opposite. Researchers in Germany analyzed 60 years’ worth of studies regarding children and the effects of weightlifting and found that almost every subject benefited. They didn’t gain a lot of muscle mass or buff up, but the weight training generated neurological changes that caused children’s muscles to function more efficiently.

They’re not the only ones taking a new stance on this controversial topic. In 2009, the National Strength and Conditioning Association – a highly recognized educational association on strength and conditioning and one of the most respected providers of personal training certifications – released a position paper on youth resistance training, claiming that a properly designed and supervised program is not only safe for children, but can also prevent injuries, enhance sports performance, and improve psychological and social well-being.

So what does this mean?
So let’s say you’re studying fitness training or taking personal training courses. (It’s pretty hot right now.) Or let’s say you have kids – maybe they’re in sports or maybe they don’t like sports but still need a way to be active. What happens now? Do personal training schools start adding child specializations to their certification programs? Do gyms drop their age restrictions and purchase Crayon-colored dumbbells for the weight room? Will commercials for a child-sized Bowflex (complete with an animated Chuck Norris!) run between sugary cereal spots during Saturday morning cartoons?

Probably nothing as extreme as that, but odds are that mindsets on the topic will be evolving and you might see more parents getting their kids involved in a form of exercise that’s long been reserved for “grownups.” The key is – whether you’re a parent looking to improve your child’s health or someone in the industry, like a personal trainer, who’s suddenly faced with a substantially younger client base – staying informed and staying involved. Both the NSCA’s release and an article on the Mayo Clinic’s website listed recommendations, and it sounds like they can be distilled down to a few key things to keep in mind:

  • Always supervise. Weightlifting is like any sport or recreational activity; there’s a danger of injury if not properly supervised, so make sure you’re there to spot and support.
  • Form is first and foremost. Even in adults, the most common cause of injury in strength training is bad form. Make sure they have the motions down first before you even throw any kind of weight into the equation.
  • Don’t push it. Small bodies, small weights. No one needs to clean-and-jerk here – or get strapped into hefty machines. A lot of the time their own body weight or resistance bands will be enough for the youngsters to start on.

The case of Guiliano Stroe is an extreme – an extreme that might further skew the opinions of many people who, like myself, have long believed kids and weightlifting are a bad combination. After all, most probably don’t find that kind of bodybuilder physique topped with a child’s face entirely natural.

But the facts of the matter are changing, studies are proving the old ideaswrong, and strength training is being shown to improve kids’ health, growth and well-being. It remains to be seen how quickly the idea will spread or how much future studies will support it, but it’s certainly in flux.

So keep an eye out next time you’re at the gym – the eight-year-old who was in the childcare room last week might be snaking your bench press tomorrow.

What are your thoughts? Should weightlifting start becoming more common amongst the prepubescent crowd?

Or do you think you would you like to know more about healthcare by being a medical assistant? Start you college search here!

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