overweight child with dumbbell

Do you have a fat little boy or girl and are at wit’s end trying to get them to lose weight?

Lifting weights can help obese kids lose body fat – and it won’t take as long as you might be thinking.

Let’s first eliminate a myth that you may have fallen prey to, that when children lift weights (aka strength train) it stunts their growth.

What stunts a child’s growth is malnourishment and smoking. A weightlifting program (aka resistance training) will motivate your child to eat more nutritiously and never take up smoking!

Study Shows Only Eight Weeks
of Strength Training Not Only
Causes Weight Loss in Obese Kids
but Signicantly Improves Body Composition

What is body composition?
It’s basically the ratio of lean tissue (muscle) to fat tissue. This is why two people of the same age, height and weight can have markedly different physiques.

How was the study done?
• 48 children were put on an eight week weightlifting program of three days/week.

• Body composition was taken at the beginning of the study and at the end.

• So was body mass index, strength, power and activity levels.

• The full report appears in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (McGuigan et al, Jan. 2009).

Who were these children?
• Between seven and 12

• Some were overweight and some were obese.

What kind of strength training did they do?
• Total body workouts that used a combination of various bodyweight and power exercises.

• Free-weight and bodyweight exercises included: arm curl, chest flye, deadlift, front raise, pushup, squat, triceps dip and upright row.

overweight child doing chest flye

• Each week of strength workouts involved varying training loads.

• There were no injuries or excessive muscle soreness reported.

Amazing Results Show that
Young Overweight Children
Should Lift Weights to Lose Weight

On average there was a reduction in absolute percent body fat of 2.6% and a big increase in lean body mass (muscle) of 5.3%.

• Some participants had a body fat decrease of seven percent.

• There were impressive increases in strength and power (which would give any self-conscious fat child a super boost in self-esteem).

“This study adds to the body of literature by showing that a short-term resistance training program can effectively benefit body composition and physical performance in children who are overweight,” says the paper.

For parents who believe that a strength training regimen would “take forever” to make any changes, or wouldn’t even make a difference in their obese child, this study should make them think very differently.

Tips for Frustrated Parents
• If you want your overweight or obese child to start lifting weights for weight loss, be encouraging, enthusiastic and even take up strength training yourself and work alongside them.

• Do not scold or belittle if they don’t lift as much as you think they should, e.g., “That’s ALL you can lift?! You can’t be THAT weak!”

• Do not tell your child to “work through” an injury or joint pain.

• Keep them hydrated; do not withhold water as motivation to “go harder.”

• Do not get in their face or yell at them like some drill sergeant or college football coach.

• At the same time, low expectations and having a lackadaisical approach will yield negative results.

Overweight and obese kids should feel very challenged by their strength training program, but not to the point where they dread it or are complaining of very sore muscles.

• Focus on big moves like the deadlift, variations of the squat, weighted walking lunge, pulling movements like the overhead pull-down, overhead press and chest press. Bigger muscles burn more calories.

• Loads of arm curls and sit-ups/crunches are worthless. Though arm curls were part of this study, so were deadlifts, squats, rows and chest movements.

Another Reason Fat Kids
Should Lift Weights

Fat loss isn’t the only reason that overweight and obese children should take up strength training.

Classically, oversized kids tend to shy away from organized sports out of anxiety over not being able to keep up with thinner, swifter kids.

However, lifting weights is an activity for which fat children are on an even playing field with thin kids.

Though there are exceptions, such as pushups, pull-ups and the rope climb, many other exercises can be performed as well by very heavy kids as by skinny kids.

Furthermore, the anticipated breathlessness from running and jumping is non-existent in a strength training regimen.

In the study, several parents reported that only after the study completion did their kids join organized sports.

The gains in strength and power gave these overweight children the confidence to pursue team sports.

“Significant improvements in body composition, strength, and power were observed,” concludes the paper, “indicating that resistance programs could provide a preferable alternative to more traditional aerobic-based programs in this population.”

Think about it: A slow-moving, obese child is far more likely to embrace lifting weights than struggling through sets of jumping jacks, wind sprints and laps around a track.