Proper form is the key to starting strength training with kids.
Fair warning: You may even be surprised at what perfect form is. Watch the videos below and have your child complete the movements while you observe.
Then rate his or her form on a scale of 0 to 3, using this scoring guide:
- 3 = Perfect form
- 2 = Able to do the exercise with slight deviation from proper form
- 1 = Significant deviations from proper form
- 0 = Can't do the exercise at all or the drill causes pain
5 Strength Rules for Kids
1. Master the basics first. Work on the two movements above—the pushup and overhead squat—until they can be completed correctly, says Mejia. If your kid doesn't pass the body-weight tests with a score of 3, he or she is not ready for actual weights. That’s perfectly fine, by the way. These movements require total-body strength that will help in just about every sport. So by improving at them, you’ll develop a more sound athletic foundation.
2. Once your kid aces the tests, focus on compound, multi-joint movements. Choose exercises that emphasize the upper back, core, and hips, says Mejia. Think: Less benching, more rowing. Smart exercises to include: stability-ball leg curls, inverted rows, and reverse flys with lightdumbbells.
3. Stay away from most machines. Many gym machines—such as the leg extension, leg press, and chest fly (a.k.a pec deck)—force kids to work through unnatural movement patterns that have little carryover to sports and activities of daily living. (Cable machines are the exception.)
4. Watch the weights. Poor form and excessive loading are the reasons kids wind up injured. Once they’ve mastered their own body weight, start with a resistance that allows for 12 to 15 repetitions with perfect technique, advises Mejia. “Just one or two sets per exercise is fine initially, working up to a maximum of three once strength and endurance improve." And be sure not to take any sets to the point of muscular failure.
5. Use a variety of strengthening equipment. Medicine balls, bands, and cable-based machines allow for three-dimensional movement. These are ideal because they offer kids variety, while training balance and stability just like free weights, says Mejia.