Should Kids Exercise?
Yes! The benefits children get from exercise are quite similar to those of exercising adults. Although children's exercise doesn't have to be strenuous or even formal, they can and should exercise. In accordance with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), children should get 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous exercise each and every day. It should be developmentally appropriate, while being enjoyable and safe at the same time. In addition to aerobic activities such as running, skipping and hopping, muscle and bone strengthening activities should also be incorporated. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), kids who exercise are more likely to:
Continue to exercise as adults
Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight
Help build and maintain strong, healthy muscles, bones and joints
Enhance academic performance
Have greater self-esteem and better self-image
Prevent or delay the symptoms of many chronic diseases
Report fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression
Can Kids Perform Resistance Training Exercises?
Yes! Lifting weights, or strength training at sub-maximal loads (i.e., not exercising to failure or max capacity), can offer benefits and alternatives to other forms of exercise kids typically participate in. In fact, according to Dr. Wayne Wescott and Dr. Avery Faigenbaum, some children prefer engaging in short bursts of high-effort movement with longer periods of rest and recovery. This type of work followed by recovery mimics the way children move and play. For children who are obese, strength training may be more appealing and beneficial. That's because traditional children's fitness and sports activities (running, jumping, soccer, baseball, etc.) may be more difficult for kids with excess body weight to do. Strength training can be a great alternative to traditional children's fitness and sports activities and help to promote self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment. Remember: Strength training doesn't have to be done at the gym. Climbing trees or ropes and playing a structured game of tug-of-war are other examples of activities that work the muscles and build strength.
When Should Kids Start to Exercise?
Now. Whether it's your toddler running around the back yard chasing a butterfly, your first-grader in ballet, or your 10-year-old in recreational sports and a supervised strength-training program, kids need to exercise.
But Is It Safe?
Children who exercise, whether through sport, dance, playground activities, and yes, even weight training, can do so in a safe manner. In fact, studies have shown that kids who participate in strength-training activities can actually help reduce the number of injuries they may suffer from recreational sports. Leaders or coaches who provide exceptional instruction are the key to keeping kids safe. Focusing on proper technique, progressing exercises when appropriate, and supervision is critical. In addition, providing positive feedback and positive reinforcement are important for injury prevention and to help develop your child's self-confidence.
What to Look for in Kids' Fitness Programs
Parents should help their children identify programs that will not only benefit health, but also pique their interests, fulfill their individual needs, and most importantly, are fun.
As with any fitness program, it's important to look for well qualified instructors. Due to the growing demand for children's fitness options, more organizations are offering formal training and guidelines for coaches and instructors. Similar to the certification process adult-focused fitness professionals go through, certifications are now being offered specifically to work with children. The American Council on Exercise (ACE), International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), are just a sample of organizations offering certifications or specialty course work focusing on youth fitness. Ask your child's coach or fitness instructor about the training or certifications they have undergone.
Current Trends in Kids' Fitness
Crossfit Kids programs are for children as young as pre-school age through their teenage years, and are tailored to the specific abilities of the age group being trained (pre-school, elementary, novice, junior varsity, and varsity). Each one of these program levels have elements of the adult version of Crossfit, with the goal of increasing physical ability through Crossfit's 10 of fitness: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.
Yoga for Kids
With the popularity of yoga increasing everyday, it is no surprise to find more and more classes just for kids. Classes are offered at various local yoga studios, YMCAs, and gyms alike. In fact, kid-only and kid-focused yoga studios are starting to emerge. One example is Yogi Beans, a New York City-based yoga studio where kids come first. Classes for children as young as 6 weeks (with their parent, of course) can take part in Bye-Bye Bump Yoga, while their siblings can take in other classes geared to older children such as Mini-Bean, Tween, and Teen yoga.
Programs that complement your kid's current sport aspirations are popping up in cities and suburbs alike. One popular sports-specific training franchise, Velocity Sports Performance, aims to increase your child's athletic performance by "pushing them to their limits but not beyond," while building self-confidence at the same time. Focus is put on improving speed, agility, mobility and flexibility, and the body's energy systems, while reducing the risk of sports-related injuries.
Zumba for Kids
Zumba, the dance-cardio fitness craze where upbeat rhythms and easy-to-move-to dance steps give you a total body workout, is now being offered for kids. Zumbatomic, the kid's version of Zumba, incorporates dance, movement and fun for ages 4-13. You can find these classes internationally, too.
Focused on family and fitness for decades, the YMCA is starting to offer more and more fitness classes geared specifically to kids. Kids' kick boxing, strength and agility, circuit training, and teen weight-training classes are just a few of the examples offered. Classes vary by location, so check your local YMCA.
Not just for parents anymore, personal training can benefit kids too with one-on-one attention and tailored exercise programs. Whether the focus is weight loss, sports performance and injury prevention, or just to help build a healthy exercise habit in a safe and controlled environment, personal training for kids is becoming more popular. Although probably the most expensive option, personal training might be a good option for kids who don't like organized sports or feel uncomfortable trying new fitness activities, have specific health issues and need the one-on-one attention, etc. When hiring a personal trainer to work with your child, find out if they have a youth-specific certification.
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Ryan Baylor, CSCS, holds a B.S. in Exercise Science and is a fitness educator and certified personal trainer in Los Angeles, Calif.