As a coach, sometimes I have to educate new members of the team who are hesitant to lift weights as part of their strength training. They are afraid that lifting weights will stunt their growth or make them so horribly muscle-bound that they will lose flexibility.
Both concerns are unfounded and simply not true. Research strongly suggests that resistance training for youth is beneficial, and that most children who stick with a well-supervised weight lifting program can safely increase their strength.
Now, one major obstacle to a consistent strength training program is access to weights. None of my athletes have a weight set at home, and few can afford the monthly fees public gyms charge.
The solution to this problem is to teach them how to create their own resistance weight training sets at home using readily available and safe household items. For example:
- Make an inexpensive kettle bell (similar to a dumbbell) using a plastic milk or juice jug.
Use water to fill a clean plastic 1/2 gallon jug (be sure to use a jug with a handle). One cup of water weighs approximately 1/2 pound: so, for example, a two-pound weight would need 4 cups (1 quart) of water in the jug.
- Use canned goods that fit in your hands as simple hand weights. Most canned vegetables come in 8 – 16 ounce sizes.
That’s it. You have all that you need to start training.
Some good beginner exercises
Before you begin lifting any weights, be sure to stretch and warm up properly first.
Also, when lifting weights for the first time, most beginners tend to hold their breath. You should always remember to breathe while lifting, so that you have enough oxygen to perform the activity. When supervising exercising children, MAKE SURE the child inhales while lifting the weight, and exhales while returning to “rest” position.
Bicep curls: With the weight in the hand, PALMS UP, stand with feet shoulder width apart, back straight, and head up. Slowly bring the weight up to your chest, making sure to keep the elbow still. Slowly lower the weight until your arm is straight again.
Forearm curls: Same as the bicep curl above, except that the PALMS are DOWN. Curling the weight with the palms facing downward moves the focus away from the bicep and to the forearm.
Both curls can be performed one arm at a time, or by alternating each arm, but you will need one weight in each hand if you choose to alternate.
Shoulder raises (shrugs): Hold one weight in each hand, hang your arms comfortably at your sides, and assume the same stance as for curling. Keeping your head up, pull your shoulders up and try to touch your ears with them….you won’t be able to, of course, but imagining that you can allows you to maintain proper technique and posture. Hold your shoulders up for two seconds, and then lower the weights back to the starting position.
There are many, many more exercises you and your child can do together with these easy homemade weights, but for now let’s keep it simple, safe, and, most importantly, FUN! So keep the repetitions to a low number: do no more than 3 sets of 10 repetitions for each exercise. Doing this 3 times a week will make a difference.
Some important strength training guidelines for children
7 and under: Introduce the child to basic exercises using little or no resistance. The intent is to develop in the child the idea of a training session and to teach proper exercise.
8 to 10 years old: You can gradually increase the number of exercises while maintaining a focus on proper technique for all exercises. It is important to not let the child develop any bad lifting habits such as rocking or jerking the weights, which may result in a muscle strain.
Remember, lifting weights can be a lifelong activity beneficial to strength, flexibility, good posture and strong self esteem. Developing good habits and techniques at a young age is a great way to start a lifetime of healthy habits.
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
 “Resistance Training for Youth,” by Dr. Carla B. Sottovia, 7 October 2008
 Rick Philbin, MED, ATC, CSCS, National Board Member, Diabetes, Exercise & Sports Association
National Presenter, Children with Diabetes, Northeast Regional Manager, Animas Corporation, November 2004