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The gym scene for minors

No matter what age you are, moving your body is always going to be great for the mind and your physical health. Whilst some form of exercises will come with a myriad of benefits, we must keep in mind that our body has different requirements at different ages. For pre-pubescent children, parents often have many concerns about how exercise can impact growth and what risks are posed particularly when it comes to gym-based training or weights. Below we will discuss what types of training are great for kids and why hitting the gym isn’t strictly off limits.

Childhood development
During childhood there are many physiological processes going on attributed to our growth and development. The muscles and tendons are still growing and strengthening into the adult form and bones are smaller with areas of cartilage that haven’t turned to bone (growth plates). In addition, hormone levels have not risen and the brain is still developing neural pathways.

Growth Stunting
For many young people, team sports, running, swimming and athletics are normally the go to exercises which fits perfectly with a child development stage. Training in a gym isn’t usually undertaken until post pubescent high school or young adult years and part of the reasoning for this may be some confusion surrounding ‘growth stunting’
Growth stunting is the concept that the growth plates described above can be fused to early preventing growth as a result of lifting weights. Dr Jeffrey Nepple, a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital advises that this is a myth and instead suggests weight training can offer a lot of benefits when done safely. There are however, a few reasons why children need to be treated differently on the gym scene.

Things to keep in mind
Whilst there is no research to prove growth stunting, there are a couple of reasons why weight training for children needs to look a little different than adults:

1. The brain:
Human brains begin developing from the moment we are born. The older we get the more knowledge we retain and the higher our day to day skillset is. The brain coordinates how our body moves which means children will have under developed gross motor skills compared to adults. In addition to gross motor skill development, children also tend to have decreased attention span, finding boredom easier to come by than adults. A lack of coordination and attention means children are more susceptible to accidents and poor form injuries than adults.

2. Hormones
When children enter the ‘puberty’ stage of life a lot of physical changes happen as a result of the changing plane of hormones. These hormones allow for a change in body composition including a strengthening of the bones and increase in lean muscle mass. For children who haven’t had this hormonal influx they will see a lack progress in regards to strength and will have poorer recovery from session to session. This can lead to overuse injuries.

The do’s on the gym scene for kids
After taking into account the characteristics of a child’s development, the Mayo clinic advise that when it comes to the gym children opt for strength training not weight lifting.

They also suggest a few extra adjustments are made for children:
– Supervision! Majority of injuries in the gym in children are attribute to a lack of supervision. Due to the developing and attention span and coordination supervision is imperative.
– Consult a professional: PT’s can be great to not only supervise but also to teach and encourage correct form to prevent injury.
– Go for body weight: there are plenty of exercises that can be done in the gym without even having to pick up a weight that are still great for building strength.
– Functional training: will help to improve coordination when it comes to day to day tasks and has many health benefits.
– Avoid heavy weights: powerlifting style training or 1rm testing should be postponed until post puberty when the body has undergone the hormonal changes it needs to recover from heavy weights
– Keep it fun: the developing mind of a child requires a balance between achieving goals and fun! Game like activities on the gym scene can help hold the attention span and make it exercise that kids love.

Kids and teens should get at least an hour a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day (Dr Mary Gavin). So why not check out functional training for an introduction to the gym scene.