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Are Kettlebells safe for Kids? A Crossfit Kids Kettlebell Workout!

Posted Sep 07 2008 7:58pm
I recently received a great question from one of our readers about whether or not children should use kettlebells. Here is the question and answer below.

Q. Hi Nathan,
I’m relatively new to KB’s but have quickly fallen in love with the feel of the movements of the swing. I have been doing swings daily, incorporating them into my various weightlifting and cardio workouts. I’ve found them to be a great warm up for any body part I end up working that day.
I have a question for you as far as how old a child can be before he/she starts training with KB’s. I have a 12 year-old son who plays football and wrestles. He’s a long and lean kid and I think the overall body strength KB’s provide are excellent for both sports. Any thoughts? Thank you.

Regards,

Eliseo

A. Hello Eliseo and thank you for the great question! Most of the readers here have also fallen in love with kettlebells and I am happy to hear you have joined the club. I would have to agree with you about using swings to warm-up. They work the entire body at once and really activate the glutes which often become quite passive due all the sitting people do these days.

As for your son, I would say 12 years old is a good time to start strength training. For the most part, children are best served to improve their physical abilities simply by playing a wide variety of sports but it sounds like you son has quite the athletic background and that is a great starting place. Since your son is long and lean, I believe some careful strength training is in order but we need to ensure he does not get injured or turned off from strength training.

At his age and with his body type I would encourage him to start training with kettlebells very gradually. Start with a simple program of swings and presses with a lot of body weight exercises thrown in there. A healthy diet of swings will really strengthen his back, glutes and hamstrings. This is what strength coaches call the posterior chain and is the first thing they athletes build to improve their sprinting and tackling ability. If you look at the kettlebell swing, it is simply a powerful hip thrust, the exact same muscles drive an explosive tackle. Swings are also the foundation of the clean and the snatch, which will dramatically increase your son's explosive ability.

Presses will have a ton of benefit for your son as well. First off, he will have to get that kettlebell to his shoulder one way or another for each set. By doing this he will probably teach himself the clean and press! Pressing will obviously build up his shoulder girdle and triceps, important for pushing off an attacker, but will also strengthen his core. Pushing weights up over your head forces the chest, back and abdominal muscles to contract hard in order to balance the weight. Swinging and pressing a kettlebell is a great way to build his grip and forearm strength as well due to the fat handle. In both football and wrestling a strong grip makes you a dangerous opponent.

With the kettlebell training, keep it really simple in terms of the amount of exercises and keep the frequency low as well, twice per week should do. He could probably train more but you want to keep him interested and not let him burn out. Plus, all those sports take a lot out of a growing boy and strength training will tap him even further.

Now that we have established the merits of using a kettlebell to train a twelve year old boy, what about barbells and dumbbells? To be honest I used to lift weights when I was twelve, if you can call it that, but I would not recommend it to children. Why not? Well, a barbell on the back of an undeveloped child is an accident waiting to happen. All they have to do is bend over with that bar loading their weak spine and an injury can happen. If you want your child using a barbell then put him the care of a qualified strength coach. As for dumbbells, they would be a lot safer, goblet squats, pressing and rowing would be great! The only disadvantage is most kids will just do curls and call it a workout.

Kettlebells tend to really improve athleticism through the safe use of dynamic movements. You can do very high reps without worrying about a breakdown in form causing injury. I would recommend them to parents trying to improve the strength of their children any day.

Here is a video of Crossfit kids kettlebell workout to give you an example:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0oowuiwM30
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