If you’re into sports you know how important it is for our health, not to mention the social and learning aspects involved in working as a group. That’s why many parents stimulate their kids to do some sport quite early.
Parents who are gym freaks are more likely to put their kids to work out too. But in that case you’d better be extra careful there and get some info on the right age to enroll your kid in a gym. “Just like any physical activity, weight training can be unhealthy if the child pushes themselves too hard, which could overload the structures of their bodies”, explains Mauro Olívio Martinelli, a specialist in sports medicine and an orthopedist at Centro de Qualidade de Vida, in São Paulo.
About 90% of our skeleton is made up of collagen fibers which provide the bone tissue with resistance against deformation forces. The developing skeleton of a young athlete is made up of bone and cartilage tissues.
“Repeated trauma or excessive strain, when applied to the cartilage skeleton may lead to a decrease in the vascularization, injury to the growth plate of the bone and consequent alteration to the shape of the final bone”, says Joaquim Grava, an orthopedist and sports doctor at Hospital São Luiz (SP).
In other words, the growth platers may close prematurely or in an uneven way, leading to alterations of its natural shape.
The Right Age
In general, most professionals recommend the practice of weight training for teenagers around 16 years old, when their osteomuscular condition is maturing and almost complete. “This maturation occurs in girls after their first period and in boys after their growth spurt, when they grow from 8 to 10 centimeters in a very short period of time”, Grava tells me.
There are, though, special cases in which doctors authorize the practice of weight training at 14, under extreme supervision of a professional only. But in that case it depends on the objectives for such an early practice. “Before this age, only in specific cases of small athletes that can benefit from weight training”, he adds.
The Practice Before 16
So if your child is already this age, before enrolling them in the gym it’s imperative that they see a doctor and perform a full checkup (yes, my friend, the little ones also need to go through this in order to start working out).
During the clinical procedure, aspects like bone maturation, muscular condition, balance and motor coordination, factors that can influence physical activity, are evaluated. “Plus, we should not forget that a young athlete is not a miniature of an adult one. There are metabolic differences involved that must be respected”, points Joaquim Grava.
The fact is that the anaerobic capacity of a child is largely inferior to an adult’s, for example. However, the younger athletes are capable of recovering from any exercise much faster. Not only that but the teenager, when under physical strain, has their metabolism and caloric production worn out. On the other hand, the cooling of the body is not as efficient as an adult’s. “Which means that their diet and hydration routine has to be different from an older person’s”, points the doctor.
But if you follow all these guidelines and seek a good professional to supervise your child, I am certain they will become healthier adults. According to Mauro Martinelli, the benefits of weight training, as well as other physical activities are:
– better socialization;
– better school performance;
– it increases self-esteem – through the release of hormones (endorphins) and aesthetic evolution;
– better health in general (metabolic, physical and mental);
– prevention of diseases;
– reduced sedentariness in the adult by starting a physical activity early on.
Weight training or other physical activities can improve bone health (strengthening bones, maintaining calcium levels) and prevent the onset of osteoporosis in the future. “It can also improve metabolic control and lessen insulin resistance, which, in turn, reduces the risk of diabetes and hypertension in the future”, states Martinelli.
Additionally, the practice of physical activities affects hormone production in several ways. The activities increase endorphin levels (as we said) and reduce cortisol levels, contributing to psychological well-being.
“The levels of anabolic hormones like sexual steroids, growth hormone and its transporter proteins also increase, mainly with resisted exercises”, explains Joaquim Grava.
The sports doctor also adds that the benefits of the physical activity become evident in several organs and systems: cardiovascular (higher oxygen consumption, maintenance of a good heart rate), respiratory (increase of functional ventilatory parameters), muscular (increase of mass, strength and resistance), skeletal (increase of calcium contents and bone mineralization), cartilaginous (increase of cartilage thickness, providing higher protection of joints) and endocrinological (higher insulin sensitivity and improvement of the lipid profile).
I have talked to Cacá Ferreira, a corporate technical manager at Cia Athletica, a gym center in São Paulo, and asked for a workout program for children. Of course your kid will need professional help (don’t even think of letting them work out alone). But you can suggest these to their instructor. Take a look:
- Ball throwing
Using a ball, raise it above your head and throw it as far as you can.
Here you’ll teach your kid how to keep their back straight when jumping. If you’ve got a trampoline it’s even more fun.
- Resistance running
Tie a rope to a tire (of just a few kilos), fasten the rope to the kid’s shoulders (as if it was a vest) and make them run dragging the tire.
Standing up, teach them to squat as if they were to sit down. Watch their posture.
This is just like doing push ups: lying on your stomach, keep your elbows aligned to your body, keep your hands on the floor and push your body up. Go back to start position.
This exercise can be better performed if you gather several kids and play tug of war, in which each team remains on one side of the rope, pulling it. Whoever gets to pull all the rope to their side wins.
I’ve also asked André de Andrade, a physical educator at Bodytech, in São Paulo, for another program. He showed me the machines the teenagers can use in the gym. Check them out:
- Bench press
Ask the child to sit correctly, combining shoulders, scapulas and elbows into a joint movement of extension and flexion of the elbows only.
- Adductor machine
Sitting straight, place your hips in the right position and align your back. Next, do the movement of adduction and abduction of the legs.
- Lateral Raise
Standing up, flex your knees slightly, align your back and raise your arms.
- Leg curl machine
Sitting straight, align your back and hips and do the movement of flexion and extension of the knees.
- Seated row machine
Start by sitting on the machine, align your back and keep your knees slightly bent. Do the movement of adduction and abduction of your scapulas and flexion and extension of your elbows.
- Calf machine
Standing up, keep your back straight, moving only your ankle joint, doing only a plantar flexion.
- Dumbbell bicep curls
Sitting on a bench, keep your back straight, knees bent and feet on the floor. Using a pair of dumbbells, bend and extend your elbows.
- Triceps press
Sitting down, keep your back against the seat and feet flat on the floor. Do the movement of extension and flexion of your elbows.
- Floor sit ups
Lying on the floor on your back, knees slightly bent and feet flat on the floor, flex your trunk forward enough so you can just feel your scapulas come up off the floor.
Get your Kid Ready
Now all you have to do is see a doctor and find a good gym to enroll them.