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"Doing more exercise with less intensity,"
Arthur Jones believes, "has all but
destroyed the actual great value
of weight training. Something
must be done . . . and quickly."
The New Bodybuilding for
Old-School Results supplies
MUCH of that "something."

 

This is one of 93 photos of Andy McCutcheon that are used in The New High-Intensity Training to illustrate the recommended exercises.

To find out more about McCutcheon and his training, click here.

 

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Ellington Darden, Ph.D.

Strength Training for Kids:
Weights Or Wait?

Tyler Darden, my 7-year-old son, contracts his forearms and
upper arms. Do you think he's ever tried heavy exercise?


Should youngsters lift weights?

I remember in 1988, professional football player and former Heisman Trophy winner, Herschel Walker, expressed a prevalent opinion on this question in his Dallas Morning News fitness column. He said: "If young people start lifting weights, they can become stiff. They risk losing the flexibility they need for strength and quickness."

Later in article he noted that . . . children should avoid lifting weights until they reach age 15.

In the last two decades, the prevalence of strength training among teenagers age 15 and older, as well as adults of all ages, has dramatically increased. But Walker's opinion against kids younger than 15 lifting is still generally believed. Today, very few children strength train.   

I strongly disagree with Walker's rationale and recommendation . . . and here's why:

First, proper weight training — and I emphasize the word "proper" — which I'll get to in a few moments, will increase a youngster's flexibility, rather than impede it.

Second, both strength and quickness are based primarily on the amount of muscle on the body, not the degree of flexibility.

Third, rather than avoid lifting weights, youngsters should be given the opportunity to participate in the activity.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, after studying the risks and benefits, concluded that weight training for children:

If there are numerous benefits of weight training, why has it received a bad review from Walker and others?

One reason cited for not having children train with weights is that they have not reached skeletal maturity and that the growth centers might be damaged. Medical statistics show that 10 percent of all childhood injuries involve the skeleton and 15 percent of those injuries involve the epiphysis (growth plate). 

There are several differences in immature and mature skeletons. Children's bones are in a dynamic state of growth and remodeling, while adults' bones change much more slowly in response to the stress placed upon them. Keep in mind that the epiphysis is a biomechanical weak area. A sudden force that causes a strain in an adult will often cause epiphyseal fracture in a child.

That's why it is important to understand the distinction between weight lifting and weight training.

Weight lifting is a competitive sport in which one attempts to lift the maximum weight on a barbell for one repetition. Olympic weight lifting involves the snatch and the clean-and-jerk, and power lifting utilizes the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Weight training employs barbells, dumbbells, machines, and even body weight is a progressive manner whereby one gradually increases the amount of weight lifted, as well as the number of repetitions.

Weight training should be practiced slowly and smoothly while weight lifting must be performed quickly.

Quick, sudden movements are necessary for success in many sports such as football, basketball, gymnastics, and weight lifting. These fast, explosive movements also contribute to and produce injuries.

Youngsters, or even adults, trying to see how much they can lift at one time with a barbell or weight machine are asking for trouble. Instead, they should reduce the resistance and see how much they can lift approximately 8 to 12 times. When 12 or more repetitions are performed properly, increase the resistance by 3 to 5 percent at the next workout.

How young is too young? That depends mainly on the child's motivation.

My 7-year-old son, Tyler, often trains with me — and he's been doing so since he was 3 years of age. He has been working out an average of once every 10 to 14 days and usually performs six exercises, which require no more than 12 minutes of his time per session.


Has it helped him?

At 7.5 years of age, he stands 4-feet, 7-inches tall and weighs 90 pounds. During his last workout, he did 210 pounds on the Nautilus Nitro Leg Press machine for 12 repetitions and 95 pounds on the Nautilus Nitro Vertical Chest machine for 8 repetitions. Also, he performed 18 chin-ups — which is his favorite exercise. Note: On his body-weight-only movements, Tyler often does higher repetitions than 12.

His other exercises include pullovers, calf raises, push-ups, sit-ups, and a few others with the Bowflex machine. He always likes it when I introduce a new exercise to him.

Tyler — with his thick wrists, ankles, and knees — is exceptionally strong for his age. Overall, he's well developed from head to toe.

My wife, Jeanenne, took these pictures of Tyler and me at
the Daytona Beach Bandshell on October 25, 2009. Tyler
has 10-inch arms, a 32-inch chest, and 13-inch calves.

Dr. Terry Todd, who publishes a periodical called Iron Game History, visited me at home a year ago and got a good look at Tyler running around our swimming pool. He turned to me and said:

John Grimek was one of the most famous of the 20th Century strongmen/ bodybuilders and was the winner of the AAU Mr. America in 1940 and 1941.

I know Tyler is getting benefits from the exercises. But I'm careful to watch and guide him closely in all his repetitions. I've learned how to challenge him just enough, without carrying it too far, to keep his motivation at an even level. I make sure not to allow him to play with the equipment at any time, especially when I'm not around. And, with the exception of Jim Flanagan's private gym, I don't take him to local fitness centers.

The vast majority of fitness centers still adhere to Herschel Walker's belief that strength training should not be practiced until an individual reaches age 15. Furthermore, there are few adults who are qualified to instruct youngsters in proper strength training — which is a real shame.

Forty years ago, during my competitive bodybuilding career, I was
known for my rib-cage size and mid-spine flexibility. Tyler has
developed these same characteristics. Of related interest, the
Daytona Beach Bandshell was the venue for the 1957
Mr. America and the 1969 Mr. Florida contests.

In the final analysis, strength training — with barbells, dumbbells, various machines, and a child's own body weight — is one of the best developmental activities for youngsters, particularly when it is performed under qualified adult supervision.

Stress smooth repetitions — rather than explosive lifts — and the activity will produce muscular strength, size, flexibility, and endurance safely throughout the child's body. Those benefits will support a child's skill learning, add confidence to sports activities, and offer protection against many injuries.

Discuss this article | Text Version

Michael Petrella

Ontario, CAN

Interesting article Dr. Darden.
Have you done any blood tests to see where he is in comparison to other children his age?
Great rib cage shot.

Michael
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Ellington Darden

Tyler has had normal blood tests as a part of his yearly physical exams, and nothing is out of the ordinary. Outside of the typical height-weight charts for kids, we haven't gone deeper into his growth rate.

Ellington
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shelly123

Nice concern has been put forward regarding the health of kids..!!

Shelly Smith..
---------------------------

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summaHIT

Ontario, CAN

Seriously awesome. What a great start Tyler has already.
My 6 year old daughter has an interest in working out which maybe I will now experiment with her abilities.
The hardest thing with young kids is that they tend to want to do things the way THEY want so up until now I have been aprehensive. Safety is number one and my daughter is anti-safety.
Great job teaching your son the ropes.
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strengthmaster

Michigan, USA

Ell,

I beleve the biggest "but" here is
"under QUALIFIED adult supervision". I have taught middle school/jr. high phys. ed. for 25 years. I teach an 8th
grade wt. training course, which would
be 12 and 13 year olds. I agree that there are positive benefits to letting kids this young and younger wt. train,
but only if it's by someone who knows what they're doing and considers the age appropriateness of what they are doing. We both know the way in which most of the general public of adults train is certainly NOT how we would want to train the immature body, bones, and growth plates of our kids.
I always tell parents that when they ask, and direct them to Dr. Wayne Westcott's books on training kids. He has an excellent new one out by the way.

Scott
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Ellington Darden

Scott,

Yes, Wayne Westcott's book is excellent. Also I like Fred Hahn's book, "Strong Kids Healthy Kids."

Ellington
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Dan_The_man

When I was a kid my strength training consisted of wrestling with other kids, flipping, tossing and jostling. It wasn't what you would call scientific, but it was fun nontheless.


Dan
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marcrph

North Carolina, USA

Like father like son!

It is so very good to see a father take an active interest in his children! You are to be commended!

If children can play youth league football safely, how much more so can weight training be practiced safely!
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dhitquinn

Great to see your son involved in something healthy and athletic too many kids now do no exercise and spend too much time eating shit and playing computer games.

I laugh at the parents who panic anytime someone suggests any type of weight training for their kids as they think it is bad for them yet the same parents happily feed their kids crap from mcdonalds and fizzy juice and sweeties and all sorts of other junk.

there is no proof weight training stunts growth in children, it may divert too much energy that could go into bone growth into muscular growth instead but like i say there is no evidence of it being physically harmful.

take two twins and weight train one and let the other laze around if the lazy one ends up 4 inches taller then there may be a case for avoiding weight training but on the other hand what if the one who trains gets more growth? would doctors then reccomend it to kids who want to grow up tall?

from what i have heard the training stunts growth thing started when some idiot coaches gave their child athletes steroids and it prematurely closed their growth plates but people unaware of the drugs associated it with the training.

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dmarcon

Dr. Darden,
I saw that your son's yearly health screening involves blood work; does this include cortisol levels? It is my understanding that elevated cortisols stimulates closure of the endplates of long bones. If overtraining stimulates cortisol elevation in adults will this same affect create pre-mature closure in young lifters? Is 10-14 day cycles the norm for children training with weights?.
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Ellington Darden

dmarcon wrote:
Dr. Darden,
I saw that your son's yearly health screening involves blood work; does this include cortisol levels? It is my understanding that elevated cortisols stimulates closure of the endplates of long bones. If overtraining stimulates cortisol elevation in adults will this same affect create pre-mature closure in young lifters? Is 10-14 day cycles the norm for children training with weights?.


Tyler's cortisol levels were not measured. I do not know if high cortisol levels in children cause pre-mature closure of the long bones. I have not read that in the medical literature.

Furthermore, I've not seen any norms for the training of children. I settled on a training program for Tyler of once every 10-14 days because that's the routine that he could realistically handle, without losing his interest.

Ellington

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HeavyHitter32

Seems like he has great potential. I was thin as a rail at that age and didn't crack 60 pounds until 6th grade.
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cozias

Dr. Darden,

I recently read your book The New High Intensity Traing. Like Tyler my dad started me weight training using HIT when I was 4. I wrestle so it helps a lot to be strong. It would be awesome to meet tyler and work out sometime! haha. Im 13 years old and everyone likes to say that "weight training stunts your growth". I believe thats just an excuse why kids under 15 dont want to work hard and weight train. I actually tried the workout you wrote in the New High Intensity Training about what casey Viator did. I did it last week and it was tough. I have one question. Do you think it is really good to take so much recovery time. Like you said Tyler only works out once every 2 weeks. I try to lift 3 times a week. Is this to much? Thanks
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Ellington Darden

Twice a week is the maximum I'd recommend for you. I'd put Tyler on such a schedule, but I can't motivate him to train that often.

How tall are you and what do you weigh?

Ellington
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cozias

Im about 4'8 and 96 pounds. Im pretty short for my age but I weigh as much as some of my friends who are taller.
Im going to do the beginner #4 workout in the book today. Those workouts are great.
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Ellington Darden

Interesting. Tyler turned 8 two weeks ago. He was 4'7-1/2" tall and weighed 93 pounds.

Ellington

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cozias

My parents and there parents are really short 2. But my brother who worked out just like i do and was my size at my age hit puberty and is now 5'7 and weighs 150 at 17. So hopefully ill grow soon.
Have you ever heard of p90x? Its a series of great workout videos and they follow most of the HIT principles of going to failure but they do split routines.

I think my dad actually met you once when he picked u up from the airport in michigan in the 1970s and u gave a talk at his health club called biofit that had nautilus machines.
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Rich41

Ontario, CAN

Since younger kids are encouraged to start with calisthenics, I would suggest such exercise aids as the TRX suspension system.

It uses your own body weight to lift in various positions by the aid of 2 adjustable straps and handles.

I bought one to use for sports specific motions and core training, well needed for hockey goaltenders. I have yet to use it, but will shortly as the weather outside is getting warmer here in Ontario.
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Landau

Florida, USA

Ellis Osborn
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frygator

Florida, USA

Should have had him on the Tru-Pull. ;-)
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dhitquinn

cozias wrote:
My parents and there parents are really short 2. But my brother who worked out just like i do and was my size at my age hit puberty and is now 5'7 and weighs 150 at 17. So hopefully ill grow soon.
Have you ever heard of p90x? Its a series of great workout videos and they follow most of the HIT principles of going to failure but they do split routines.

I think my dad actually met you once when he picked u up from the airport in michigan in the 1970s and u gave a talk at his health club called biofit that had nautilus machines.


If you are concerned about your height i would advise you to go and see a doctor and advise them that you would appreciate growth hormone therapy it may be worth it as there are new techniques that they have available nowadays to help out. The weights wont hurt you but stay away from anabolic steroids as they can prematurely fuse the bones.

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NELOS

my question is : physiologicl, which system grows first after strength training tendons, legamints, bones or muscle and blood system ???
maybe if any system improved in high level it will be dangerous for others systems ...

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bobj

Is Tyler still training? If so, does he continue to show progress?
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Ellington Darden

Tyler continues to train at a frequency of once per week. I've teamed him up with a buddy who is three years older. They do well together.

Tyler has weighed 100 pounds for the last six months, so he's due a jump in his body weight.

Ellington
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