Should Kids Lift Weights?
There can be no doubt that childhood obesity is becoming an increasingly severe problem in today’s society. That problem has left many parents wondering how best to help their children build healthy habits that will benefit them for the rest of their life. Resistance training and weightlifting – especially for children – is one area that may be surrounded with more misconceptions than any other area of fitness. Some parents are afraid to allow kids of any age to touch a weight, while others let their kids lift way too much weight way too young. The fact is, both boys and girls can benefit from lifting weights – if they do so in the right way and at the right time.
"The risk of today’s children leading a sedentary lifestyle filled with too much junk food and too little activity is far higher – and the consequences far more severe – than any stemming from children lifting weights."
When Are Kids Old Enough to Lift Weights?
Put as simply as possible, there is no one age after which it magically becomes safe for kids to lift weights, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics has not set a minimum age for children to begin strength training (although they do recommend this type of training for children if it is performed with proper precautions). Every child will be different, and their age by the calendar will rarely equate to their physical maturity.
At first, kids should focus primarily on performing body weight exercises like pushups and squats with perfect form – something that many adults never learn. The younger the child, the more severe the potential consequences of poor form when lifting weights. Body weight exercises allow them to begin developing fitness and body coordination while learning how to maintain the perfect form that will be essential for healthy weightlifting.
For children who are properly prepared and coached, lifting weights is perfectly healthy. Many will have developed sufficient coordination, technique and body control to lift weights safely by about age 12 or 13, but some will be ready earlier and others will need to wait longer.
Once a child can perform most major body weight exercises with perfect form, they will be ready to begin some light, easy weightlifting. You should a qualified trainer or fitness coach to help your kids learn how to perform each exercise perfectly, and to ensure that they do not attempt to lift too much weight too soon. Poor form while lifting weights is dangerous for people of any age, but particularly so for children and teens.
Healthy Weightlifting for Kids
Keep these points in mind to ensure that your kids benefit their health, rather than impairing it, when they begin lifting weights:
- A total body checkup from a doctor is a wise precaution before your child begins strength training (whether with body weight or any equipment).
- Children should err on the side of light weight and perfect form.
- Kids should mostly use some type of free weights, not machines that restrict those who use them to potentially harmful motions.
- Do not forget to include a thorough warmup and cooldown of about five to ten minutes each in every training session.
- Have your children vary the equipment and exercises they use as much as possible to avoid the possibility of overuse of certain body parts and to help develop total-body strength and fitness.
- Kids should perform mostly compound exercises that involve multiple joints and motions, rather than isolation exercises that focus on a single joint or muscle.
- Kids should lift weights no more than two to three times per week to ensure that their joints, bones and muscles have sufficient time to heal, while still allowing their bodies to properly grow and develop.
- Make sure that your kids get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water and eat balanced, nutritious meals to promote optimal recovery from each workout, as well as overall health.
Weightlifting, Height and Growth in Kids
Many parents worry that children who lift weights will stunt their growth. However, that is a largely unfounded concern, as long as the precautions listed above are followed. It is true that children who lift too much weight can sometimes injure themselves by damaging the epiphyses, or plates at the end of their longer bones. However, the fault in this case is not with weightlifting itself, but with lifting too much weight with poor form – an issue that can plague even adults.
Keep in mind that younger children will not see the same increase in muscle development that adults would see after strength training. Older teens who have already completed puberty will begin to see these results. Of course, girls and women (no matter what their age) lack the hormones necessary to develop the bulkier muscles of a man, but they will still be able to improve their strength and overall fitness and health.
Recap and Conclusion
The risk of today’s children leading a sedentary lifestyle filled with too much junk food and too little activity is far higher – and the consequences far more severe – than any stemming from children lifting weights. To minimize this risk, simply use common-sense precautions as your kids start lifting weights. Focus on strength training with body weight exercises only for the youngest kids, gradually introducing weights and other resistance training equipment as they mature and demonstrate the ability to maintain perfect form. They will thank you with the lifetime of improved health than stems from learning early to be fit and active.
At what age did you begin some type of bodyweight exercise or similar light strength training?
International Sports Sciences Association: “Strength Training for Children, a Review of Research Literature”
KidsHealth: “Strength Training and Your Child”
WebMD: “Is Weight Training Safe for Kids?”
Fitness19: “What Age Should Athletes Start Lifting?”
USA Basketball: “How Young Can Basketball Players Start Strength Training?”
WeightTraining: “When Can a Boy Start Weightlifting?”
Men’s Health: “Should Kids Lift Weights?”