Should Young Children be Hitting the Gym?
Feb. 9, 2016

By PK Karkoska, Strength and Conditioning

We hear a lot about keeping kids active as a way to stave off childhood obesity and the increase in childhood disorders like diabetes. As a parent, you may feel the need to encourage your children to take up sports and working out in order to stay active.

I often get asked, at what age can my child start working out in the gym? Parents want their children to be active, which is good. But I always make sure I warn against a new growing trend.

Before getting the younger generation started in the gym I start by asking one question. What is the ultimate goal for your child? Why do you want your child in a formal strength and conditioning program?

What you're seeing in society is a focus on the development of specialized athletes. There is population of club coaches -- whether its soccer, swimming or basketball -- who are making their sport a year round endeavor.

Back in the day, rec leagues and high school sports were very prominent. PE classes were enormously popular. Children got to test out different sports and find out what they liked and didn't like. Now 11-year-olds are on travel teams, having to choose which sport they want to focus on a very young age.

I encourage this starting point for parents. Start by going out and throwing the ball around with your children. Go on hikes or go for a walk around the neighborhood and just go explore together. Your child does not need to be in a formalized gym setting to be an active child.

If they have an interest in working out in a gym, a good place to start is with bodyweight exercises. Get your child doing sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups. Like anyone new to the gym, they need to be educated on the correct form to avoid injuries. It is important to understand the progression from the most simplistic of movements and doing them correctly all the way to the complex movements.

Complex movements -- barbells, higher velocities, Olympic movements -- are only meant to be handled when the child is more mature and has the correct supervision and coaching.

The most important thing is to encourage children to be active. We want children to feel less pressured about mastering their sport and focus more on being an overall athlete instead. And most of all, don't lose sight of having fun.