Can children improve their performance in martial arts through strength-training?
Most definitely! The martial arts require powerful, explosive movements. Strength-training exercises can be very effective in developing this explosiveness. Sprinters, football players, basketball players, baseball players, and many other elite sports people now use strength-training as an important part of their preparation.
My experience with weight training
Gridiron (American football), like martial arts, is an explosive game. As my high school coach fondly put it “It’s all about five yards (meters) and a cloud of dust”. You need to explode off the mark, hit the line hard–BOOM!, and drive. Power, strength, and speed is everything in this collision sport. We were encouraged to lift weights from 9th grade (13-14 years) onward. I am not sure if it was the result of natural growth or the weight training, but the gains we made in strength, speed, and power were astonishing. And the increase in our self-confidence was just as dramatic, as we got bigger and stronger.
Is it safe for kids to lift weights?
For years, many so-called experts said weight training and other strength-training exercises were not safe for children. “It will stunt Jimmy’s growth”, they said. I believed this myself for a long time. Today, top research authorities say that is not the case. Many reputable medical and sports organisations, including the Mayo Clinic, American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics now support strength-training exercises for children, if performed safely. They also list many benefits.
What are the benefits of children doing strength-training exercises?
- Increased muscle strength and endurance.
Sports performance improvement.
Better cardio respiratory function.
Helps to protect the child’s muscles and joints from injury associated with other activities.
Boost your child’s metabolism.
Help your child maintain a healthy weight.
Lowered cholesterol levels.
An exercise habit which lasts a lifetime.
The concept of goal setting.
Better nutritional habits.
Strength-training is just as if not more important for young females, as females are at an increased risk of osteoporosis. Strength-training increases bone mass, which prevents osteoporosis.
How do we make sure it is safe and effective?
As early as 8 years old, children can benefit from a strength-training program, provided they are mature enough to follow directions and perform the exercises with proper form. It is wise to check with the child’s doctor to make sure there are no health problems that would prevent them from participating in the activity safely. Heart conditions, high blood pressure, or seizure disorders are examples.
For kids, light resistance and controlled movements are the key, with emphasis on proper technique and safety. Your child can start with exercises using his or her own body weight, like lunges, push-ups or pull-ups, and work slowly into light weights. One to two sets of 12-15 repetitions is ideal for children. The number of sets and the amount of weight lifted can be gradually increased as the child gets older and has mastered proper lifting technique.
Lifting heavy weights like power-lifters and bodybuilders is not advisable for children. This can put too much strain on tendons, muscles, and growth plates—especially when performing the lift without proper form. Lifting to muscle failure is also not recommended. Bulking up is not advised until after puberty. If the child cannot lift the weight at least 10 times, the weight is too heavy.
Find a coach or trainer that is knowledgeable about youth strength-training. They will be able to design a program based on your child’s size, age, and sport-specific requirements. Child-sized weights and equipment are good if they can be found. Adult supervision is an absolute necessity when children are lifting weights.
Warm up properly before any weight-training session to prevent injury. Lifting the bar without weights on it is a very good way to warm up.
Make sure your child rests at least one full day between workouts. Two to three days a week is enough for a child’s strength-training program. Keep it fun and interesting by varying the program, or your child will get bored.
Results take time. Set realistic goals with your child and encourage him with praise and rewards. If you push him it will soon become a job and he will quickly lose interest. The decision to begin and continue a strength-training program should rest solely with the child—not with an overzealous parent or martial arts coach.
With a properly designed and supervised strength-training program, your child can build strength, confidence, and perform better in sports. It might be the edge they need, not only in the martial arts, but also in life.
Childrens Martial Arts and Strength Training is an original article by Sensei Matt Klein