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. Workouts can help preteens by:

  • increasing strength
  • reducing body fat
  • increasing cardiovascular fitness
  • building stronger bones
  • keeping cholesterol levels down
  • improving mood
  • maintaining long-term health

What types of physical activity are best for kids at this age, and how much is too much? A combination of cardiovascular exercise and strength training 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. A moderate level strength training program, one that works all of the major muscle groups, can be a healthy way to help your preteen build lean muscle mass, which helps balance their overall fitness and possibly avoid injury.

If your preteen is on a sports team, they may be getting some strength training in the form of pushups, lunges, or other exercises. Weight training can be another great form of strength training for preteens, but it's important that your child learn 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. Be sure that they do a proper warmup and cool down prior to and after lifting. Invest in a personal trainer if you are not familiar with strength training. 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 pathways developed by lifting. You can start with basic exercises using standard weight machines, following the instructions on the machines. After your preteen practices the lifting motions with no weight, they can work up to a weight that allows them to do around 10 to 15 repetitions without excessive fatigue and without going to failure. 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 5-pound increments. Monitor their ability to recover and avoid adding weight above their ability to comfortably perform 10 to 15 repetitions.

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 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.