Weight training, body building, lifting: just what kids need to be better, stronger athletes, right? Not so fast, fitness experts say. Definitely not when they're young and still developing. What's more, if the child works out unsupervised or without proper instruction, it can actually be harmful.
For most young teens, weight workouts start with slinging a too-heavy backpack or book bag over their shoulder and flinging it around all day. At the gym, it's not much different.
"Kids go into a gym and just grab heavy weights because they think it's cool," says Rob Sahoury, director of personal training at Parisi Fitness Center in Midland Park. "But without properly warming up, learning technique or movement, they can be injured."
Tweens and early teens should save the heavy lifting for later. "When we grew up, we played," says Frank Giannantonio, founder and director of strength and conditioning at F.O.R.C.E. Performance Training in Ho-Ho-Kus. "We played on the playground and went on monkey bars. That teaches common sense; it teaches motor abilities."
Kids & Weights
Weight lifting basically focuses on developing a specific muscle as opposed to getting stronger. "Young kids should never target just one muscle group when training," Giannantonio says. "They should target multiple muscle groups with one movement pattern." What young athletes should work on is strengthening their core musculature, as well as balance and control of their limbs.
Along with using correct warm-up techniques, learning how to use your own body as resistance goes a long way toward strengthening and improving athletic ability. "The stronger athletes are at handling their own body, what we call relative strength, the stronger they're going to be in everything," Sahoury says. "Those are the strongest kids."
Body resistance training, where gravity and body weight provide the challenge, improves posture, strength, flexibility and balance. Typical resistance exercises include chin-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, crunches and squats.
Warming up before any exercise is critical. At F.O.R.C.E., there is a 15-minute warm-up that involves skipping, hopping, jumping and working on hip mobility. "Hip mobility is critical to warming up," Giannantonio says.
"In a perfect world," Sahoury says, "we would stick to body weight training, like planks, pull-ups and push-ups, because so many different muscles are working. But kids get antsy, so we do start to incorporate some weights, but when we do it's very light weights in the beginning." And when weights come in, it's never about how heavy they are; it's all about technique and control. "If you're not in control, the chances of injury increase."
"You can't do enough medicine ball work with kids," F.O.R.C.E. instructor Frank Giannantonio says. It's all about external resistance. "We do different functional movement patterns with the ball, like in a standing position, taking the ball and slamming it into the ground 20 times. It doesn't bounce; it drops. You bounce it as hard as you can. Kids love it." It teaches leverage and how to use just about every muscle of the body.
Another effective medicine-ball workout is simply tossing the ball against a wall and catching it or lying flat on the ground and throwing it up in the air over and over. "This is working back, chest, triceps and shoulders," Giannantonio says. "A great multiple muscle workout."
Where to train
Parisi Fitness Center
156 Greenwood Ave., Midland Park
F.O.R.C.E. Performance Training
22 Hollywood Ave., Ho-Ho-Kus