boy in pool swimming

Fitness is important for everyone, including those aged 10 to 12, or "preteens." Despite myths to the contrary, the American Academy of Pediatrics confirms that age-appropriate workouts can help young people in many ways, including:

  • Increasing strength
  • Reducing body fat
  • Increasing cardiovascular fitness
  • Building stronger bones
  • Keeping cholesterol levels down
  • Improving mood
  • Maintaining long-term health

But what types of physical activity are best for kids at this age and how much is too much? A combination of the elements below will provide your preteen with a fun, safe, and effective workout:

Cardiovascular Exercise
Cardio exercise is important to a preteen's overall fitness. The key to successful cardio for preteens is finding an exercise that they'll enjoy and want to continue. Biking, hiking, swimming, and running are all great choices. Preteens should practice their choice of cardio workout for 30 minutes at a time, three to four days a week.

Strength Training
Since preteen bodies are prepubescent, avoid focusing on maximizing strength development at this age. However, a moderate amount of strength training can be a healthy way to help your preteen build lean muscle mass, which helps with weight control.

If your preteen is on a sports team, they may be getting some strength training in the form of push-ups, lunges, or other exercises. Weight training can be another great form of strength training for preteens, but it's important that your child learns proper lifting technique early on to avoid injury. Plan to accompany your child to the gym for the first several lifting sessions to help guide them. Use the following steps to get your preteen off to a good start:

1. Teach lifting patterns before adding weight.
Make sure your child understands the proper movements involved in strength training before any weight is used--their body will need a chance to adjust to the neuromuscular changes caused by lifting. You can start with basic exercises using standard weight machines, following the instructions on the machines. After your practicing the lifting motions with no weight, they can work up to adding 10 to 20 pounds of resistance. If you need assistance with the proper use of a machine, ask a trainer at the gym.

2. Practice technique.
Although your child may start to feel confident lifting light weights and may want to progress to heavier weights quickly, keep them practicing lifting form for at least two weeks. During this time, monitor their technique and make sure they're positioned correctly to get the most from the workout. By taking the extra time to help them develop proper form, you'll help prevent injury.

3. Add weight slowly.
After you're convinced that your child has mastered the basics of proper lifting, they can add weight slowly in five pound increments. Monitor their ability to recover and avoid adding weight above their ability to comfortably perform eight repetitions.

Goal Setting
Now that you've got your preteen started on the road to a lifetime of fitness and health, you can help them develop confidence and experience satisfaction by showing them how to set realistic goals. As the high energy level of preteens may not match their capabilities, they should learn to avoid pushing too hard too soon and risking injury.

Encourage your preteen to write down fitness goals based on the principles above, including a healthy mix of cardio and strength training. If they're trying to get in shape for a particular team sport such as football or cross-country running, they can incorporate goals related to preparation for the upcoming competitive season.

Most importantly, be sure that your preteen's approach to workouts stays varied and fun. If your child enjoys exercising, they'll be much more likely to stick with it for the long haul.