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Benton Evening News - Benton, IL
  • Wayne L. Westcott: Strength training benefits all youth

  • Unfortunately, for every youth who is overweight, there are at least two who are not fit. With less emphasis on physical education, and even the elimination of recess in elementary schools, this sad situation is becoming more prevalent.

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  • As you are undoubtedly aware, our nation is presently experiencing an epidemic of childhood obesity.
    Unfortunately, for every youth who is overweight, there are at least two who are not fit. With less emphasis on physical education, and even the elimination of recess in elementary schools, this sad situation is becoming more prevalent.
    Overweight children typically become overweight adults, and overweight adults have significantly higher risk of serious degenerative diseases, including high blood pressure, heart problems, stroke, diabetes, several types of cancer, lower back pain and arthritis.
    Even worse, many children already have beginning stages of cardiovascular disease. Likewise, osteoporosis (insufficient bone development) is a childhood problem that manifests itself in the adult years.
    In addition to the medical concerns associated with childhood obesity, there are many related physiological problems. Overweight youth usually score poorly on fitness tests such as timed runs, vertical jumps, long jumps, push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and agility assessments.
    They generally don’t do well in endurance activities, such as soccer, or in jumping activities, such as basketball. They don’t even like to play tag because they are always “it.”
    Psychologically, research shows that obese children score very low in self-image and self-confidence. They seldom play sports and are less involved socially than their more fit peers. One recent study sadly revealed that children who are obese and children who suffer from cancer have similar outlooks on life.
    One thing we know for sure, the old adage that kids will eventually outgrow their weight problem is seldom true in today’s sedentary society. With little activity time at school or at home, obese youth need all the help we can give them to enjoy the benefits of effective exercise. Of course, any exercise is better than no exercise, but for best results, the exercise program should match the physical characteristics of children.
    Youth, especially elementary school-aged children, have a distinctly different physiological pattern for performing physical activity. They exercise all-out for 30 to 60 seconds, then they rest. After a minute or two of recovery, they exercise all-out again for 30 to 60 seconds. They basically have an innate ability to exercise in an interval-training manner. Conversely, most young people do not fit the adult exercise model of a 5-minute warm-up, 30 minutes of continuous cycling or jogging, followed by a 5-minute cool-down.
    One important physical activity that matches children’s physiological factors is strength exercise. They perform a 30- to 60-second set of strength exercise, rest a minute or two, then perform another set of strength exercise. In addition, heavier kids typically lift more weight than their lighter peers, making this one of the few activities in which overweight children experience success.
    Another benefit of youth strength training is improved body composition. Unlike other forms of exercise, strength training builds muscle and bone resulting in a stronger musculoskeletal system and greater functional capacity. You may have heard that strength training is detrimental to muscle and bone development in children, but nothing could be further from the truth. A recent nine-month study with 9-year-old girls showed four times as much bone mineral density increase in girls who performed strength exercise compared to those who did other types of physical activity. Every research study published on youth strength training has shown positive results, with no reports of injury or developmental delay.
    Page 2 of 2 - While some facilities have the advantage of using youth-sized strength training machines, children can attain excellent results with other types of resistance equipment including free-weights, elastic bands, medicine balls and Bowflex devices. Careful supervision, gradual progression and proper technique are the critical training components for children.
    With respect to strength training protocols, boys and girls should perform about 10 basic exercises with such a resistance that they can perform 10 to 15 repetitions. When they complete 15 repetitions, the resistance should be increased by approximately 5 percent.
    Proper training technique includes good posture, slow exercise speed, and full exercise range, as well as continuous breathing on every repetition. Fast reps, short reps, breathholding and squirming actions should be avoided.
    Although one strength training session per week is sufficient, our research shows better results with 2 or 3 non-consecutive strength workouts on a weekly basis. Overweight boys and girls who do strength exercise in this manner average almost 3 pounds more lean (muscle) tissue and 3 pounds less fat every 8 to 10 weeks of training.
    Finally, most youth (overweight or otherwise) like strength training. During our many years of providing youth strength training programs at the YMCA, the average attendance rate and course completion rate exceeded 90 percent. Twenty minutes of resistance exercise performed 2 or 3 days a week is an effective and exciting activity that provides an excellent balance of challenge, achievement and reinforcement for most boys and girls, and especially those who have excess body fat.
    Wayne L. Westcott Ph.D., teaches Exercise Science at Quincy College and consults for the South Shore YMCA. He has authored 24 books on physical fitness, including Youth Strength Training.
     

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