Strength training, also known as resistance training, is movement designed to build strength, increase muscle mass, and boost muscular endurance. Weight lifting is a form of strength training that involves the use of equipment such as free weights, kettlebells, and weight machines - as resistance.
If you're a parent, you may wonder if it is safe for your child or teen to lift weights and at what age. Children and teenagers can participate in weight lifting, but it is important to ensure activities are performed correctly and safely.
Benefits of Strength Training for Children and Teens
- Better performance in sports
- Improved physical fitness
- Improved self esteem
- Improvement in body composition (more muscle, less fat)
- Increased bone strength
- Lower risk of injury
- More interest in fitness
- Stronger bones
What Age Can You Start Lifting Weights?
Children can begin a strength training program that includes lifting weights as early as 7 or 8 years old. At this age, strength training should focus on building a strong foundation of fitness. This should include teaching children the proper techniques for exercises and weight lifting. Children should understand how to use equipment safely and correctly perform certain movements in order to avoid injury.
Keep in mind that strength training isn't just weight lifting. Children and teens who are new to strength training should not begin lifting dumbbells or free weights immediately. Kids who lift too much weight too soon may be at risk of injury.
Strength training for beginners of all ages should include bodyweight exercises and using equipment, such as resistance bands, to teach the proper form and technique of the movements required for weight lifting.
Does Weight Training Stunt a Child's Growth?
The misconception that weight training will stunt a child's growth or hurt their bones is false.
A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics states that strength training (including weight lifting and bodyweight exercises) offers benefits for a child's mental and physical health and does not stunt growth, nor does it harm growth plates.
Research shows that children and adolescents can gain strength through resistance training exercises with low rates of injury, as long as activities are closely supervised.
Strength Training Guidelines for Kids and Teens
If your child has expressed an interest in lifting weights, talk to your child's healthcare provider to get the "ok" before they begin a strength training program. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have developed recommendations and guidelines to consider before your child or teen begins strength training.
- Seek training from an instructor who has certification in strength training and experience working with kids and teens.
- Proper techniques should be taught and safety precautions closely followed.
- Children and teens should learn strength training exercises with no weight. Once a technique is mastered, add incremental weights.
- Strength training programs should include all major muscle groups.
- Strength training should involve 2 to 3 sets of high-repetition (8 to 15) exercises, 2 to 3 times a week.
- Strength training programs should always include a 10 to 15 minute warmup and cool-down period.
- Strength training programs should address all major muscle groups and include a 10-15 minute warmup and cool-down period.
- Children and teens should stay properly hydrated and eat a nutritious diet for optimal energy, recovery, and performance.
- Avoid power lifting, body building, and max-weight lifting until the child reaches full physical maturity.
- Rest between workouts is essential. Provide at least one full day of rest between exercising a specific muscle group.
- If a child is injured or sick, given plenty of time for rest and recuperation before resuming exercise.
Weight Training Tips for Teens and Children
Working with a certified trainer and providing a thorough education on safety is essential before children or teens begin weight training routines. An adult beginner and a child or adolescent beginner will have two very different sets of goals, techniques, and capabilities.
Before adding weight to a child's strength training routine, or increasing the weight already being lifted, make sure they can safely complete at least eight reps correctly. Before moving up to the next level, a child should be able to complete eight to 15 reps easily, with proper form and without strain. Then add weight gradually. Experts generally advise increasing no more than 10% each time for adults. For children, use form as a guide.
Fitness, Not Bulk
If a pre-adolescent is beginning a weight training routine, the focus should be on overall fitness, not bulk. Pre-adolescents' muscles are not designed to grow large or bulk up. Educate your child or teen on what strength looks like at each age.
Children should perform approximately six different exercises two to three times a week that works every major muscle group. Adding additional workouts or weight training will not increase benefits and can lead to muscle strain.
When adding free weights or weight equipment to a child's exercise routine, make sure that proper supervision is provided. To lift the weight safely, make sure that the child understands the proper form. Movements should be performed with no weight or resistance before adding a safe amount of weight.
Mix It Up
While weight training is a great way to add to a child's fitness routine, it should not be the only component. Include plenty of aerobic exercise as well to strengthen the heart and lungs.
Keep it Fun
Strength training exercises, including weight lifting, can be a great way to instill a love of fitness and health in children and teens. But it is important that this form of training isn't a source of pressure for the child. The more you can keep it enjoyable, the more likely it is that your teen or child will grow up with an appreciation for physical fitness.
When done under the guidance of a certified trainer, strength training can be a part of a well-rounded fitness regimen that includes aerobic, flexibility, agility, endurance, and skill-building exercises. As long as your child or teen remains interested and motivated, they will continue to enjoy the many benefits a strength training program can offer.