By Kim Heitzmann
Q: I have a 11-year-old son who is very active and plays multiple sports. He has been asking to start a weight training program but I am concerned he is too young. Is it safe for children, “tweens” or teens to lift weights? Susan – Glendale
A: Any adolescent looking to start a strength or weight training program should have a complete physical with a doctor prior to beginning an exercise program—and it is always advisable to find a professional fitness or strength coach to teach proper form. When possible look for a trainer who has a history of working with children and teens. Also keep in mind that, if you are looking for a gym, most have a minimum age requirement for using the facility and the age requirement varies.
“It is a common misconception that lifting weights is dangerous for children,” explains Dr. John Kearney, M.D., a sports medicine physician at The Core Institute. “Pre-pubertal children who lift weights will not make muscles bigger or bulk up, but, they can get stronger by learning to activate muscles and increasing their coordination by lifting.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, children as young as 7 or 8 can benefit from strength training. Benefits can include:
• Increase your child’s muscle strength and endurance.
• Help protect your child’s muscles and joints from sports-related injuries.
• Improve your child’s performance in nearly any sport.
• Strengthen your child’s bones.
• Help promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
• Help your child maintain a healthy weight.
Tips courtesy of MayoClinic.org.
These benefits are also great for young athletes and kids who don’t play a specific sport.
According to experts, the key to a safe strength training or conditioning program is proper form and low weight. For younger children, start with resistance bands and build up to free weights including dumb bells and machines. If a child cannot do 10 reps with good form, the weight is too heavy for them and should be reduced. As your child grows stronger, increase weights very gradually.
If there is any pain or discomfort with a particular exercise, stop immediately. Young joints and growth plates can be sensitive when growing—and exercise should not be painful. It is also important to give muscles a chance to recuperate between workouts by exercising on an every other day basis.
“Teenagers need to be careful of the amount of weight they use and be careful to use the correct form because they are still growing and growth plates could be at risk,” Dr. Kearney adds. “Exercise caution when attempting a ‘max lift.’”
Make working out fun for your child. If it is fun, your child is more likely to want to work out and stay fit. Change things up so that it isn’t the same routine every time and make the time you spend together quality time. Take off the headphone, spend the time talking and stay fit together.