How to Build a Kid's Upper Body Strength

By Margaret McBride ; Updated April 18, 2017
Off to a good start with a willing parent and child partnership.
Off to a good start with a willing parent and child partnership.

Strength training, also known as resistance training, can be a fun way to help children build their upper body strength, developing healthy muscles, joints and bones. The Mayo Clinic states that done properly, "strength training can put your child on a lifetime path to better health and fitness." Experts agree on the importance of children doing only exercises that are appropriate for their age groups, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends getting a medical evaluation of a child before beginning a formal strength training program.

A medical check-up before your child begins an exercise program is advised.
A medical check-up before your child begins an exercise program is advised.

Make an appointment with your family doctor to check your child's fitness before beginning strength training. This will identify any risk factors for the upper body or other injuries and allow you to discuss expectations for both you and your child.

A professional will advise you on the best program for your child.
A professional will advise you on the best program for your child.

Contact a professional trainer or fitness instructor and get advice on a properly devised program for your child according to age, size and skill level. Stick with these instructions, and either you or an instructor must supervise the exercises.

Warming up the muscles is important.
Warming up the muscles is important.

Begin each strength training class with a warm up. This should be five to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity such as walking, jogging on the spot or jumping rope.

Good upper body strength can improve a child's performance in sports.
Good upper body strength can improve a child's performance in sports.

Start your child off with simple push-ups and sit-ups at the beginning. The Kids Health website says that if your child is ready to participate in organized sports or activities, such as baseball, soccer or gymnastics — typically around seven or eight years of age — it is usually safe to start strength training "as long as they show some interest, can perform the exercises safely and follow instructions." The early exercises should be learned without the use of resistance methods.

Resistance bands can improve muscle tone.
Resistance bands can improve muscle tone.

Add small amounts of resistance training over time when the child has learned technique. This is done by using resistance bands (large rubber bands), the child's own body weight or free hand weights. As children get older and stronger, they will gradually increase the amount of resistance they use to develop their upper body strength. Your professional contact will help the child determine this.

Stress the proper technique and safety aspects of the exercises as you go through them. This is more important than the amount of weight a child might lift. Resistance bands and body weight are just as effective as free weights in developing upper body strength.

The American Council on Exercise gives the following advice for children ages six to nine: For bicep curls, from a standing position, arms straight by the side, a light weight in each hand, contract the upper arm muscles. Bend the elbows, moving the weights upward towards the shoulders. Hold for two seconds, then slowly return to starting position.

To build shoulder strength, step onto a resistance band, feet shoulder-width apart, handle gripped in each hand. Keep wrists straight. Contract shoulder muscles, and move straight arms forward and upward. Hold for two seconds and slowly return to starting position.

A rest day between sessions is essential.
A rest day between sessions is essential.

When doing these exercises, exhale as arms move upward or outward, and inhale as they return to the starting position. For children starting out, the general advice is for about eight repeats of such exercises.

Have a cool-down period and gentle stretching exercises after each session. Make sure the child rests for a full day between sessions.

Things You Will Need

  • Exercise instructions
  • Gym mat
  • Resistance bands
  • Free weights

Tip

Keep the sessions fun and eventually the child will notice a difference in muscle strength and endurance.

Encourage your child to play. Boys and girls can do a lot to build strong, healthy muscles by playing, running, jumping and riding a bike.

Warning

Don't confuse upper body strength exercises for children with the sort of weight lifting and body building programs used to bulk up muscles in adults. These are not recommended for children and teenagers who could risk injuring their growing bones, muscles and joints.

Don't let the child go it alone. Supervise each training session.

About the Author

Based in Scotland, Margaret McBride became a journalist in the 1960s. She later worked in public relations and in 1990 became press and publicity officer for a health authority. A freelance writer since 2005, she writes for online and print media companies.