Weight Lifting for Kids
If your child is involved in sports, you may wonder if it's appropriate for him to be lifting weights as a part of his training regimen. Will it really stunt his growth if he starts too young, or is that just a sports myth?
Rest assured, there is no data that proves your child's growth will be stunted by lifting weights or plyometrics (exercises that use explosive movements to develop strength, quickness and agility, like powerful, quick jumps up and down for one minute or 30-second sprints around a series of cones).
What's the Right Age?
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association -- and the American Academy of Pediatrics -- athletes as young as age 7 can safely begin weight programs using some common-sense guidelines.
Keep in mind, though, that most children won't have the focus for any sort of structured training until 8 to 10 or older. If the motivation's not there, the training won't be effective. Also, pre-pubescent adolescents (13 and under) are typically not able to build much muscle mass, if any. A strength-training program at a young age should be secondary to a sound conditioning program.
According to Steve Swanson, chief science and technology officer for Athletic Republic, a sport-science-based training program, "Training should be fun, geared towards progress and creativity, not fatigue."
From ages 7 to 14, learning basic skills such as running, acceleration/deceleration, and jumping -- plus movements that target the "core" (abdominals, hip flexors, back, etc.) -- can help boost the future success of an athlete because the body is more receptive to learning new skills at this time of life than any other.
Guidelines for Youth Weight Lifting
However, if you or your child's coach decides to forge ahead with weights, Swanson recommends these guidelines:
- Make sure that the training is organized and supervised by an exercise professional: young kids can be easily injured by goofing around -- lifting too much weight or performing exercises incorrectly.
- A program should include light to moderate amounts of weight (typically below body weight), and incorporate a full range of multi-joint movements and motion at medium speed. Young athletes should not attempt to "max out," or lift heavy weights.
- Body-weight exercises (push-ups, pull-ups, and light squats) are effective when done correctly.
- Strength training should be done no more than two times a week.