When should weight lifting for young athletes begin?
A sports parent asks:
My 12-year-old son plays youth football and wants to start getting “muscles.” Is he too young? When is it okay for him to start?
This took a little research on my part since I have always left the weight room instruction of our 3 kids to my husband coach.
First of all, it’s important to distinguish between weight lifting
and strength training.
Weight lifting emphasizes heavy weights, and maximizing lifts to build strength. uses low resistance and repetition to build strength and conditioning.
In general, stick to these guidelines:
- Kids as young as 7-8 can do strength training activities, if they want. Exercises should be fun and include activities for the total body, using only body weight as resistance: jumping jacks, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and lunges. Encourage simple games that involve running, with starts, stops, relays, jumping, skipping, and throwing.
- By age 9-10 most children are physically ready to begin training with light external resistance. Keep the exercises simple and monitor how the child tolerates the stresses of training. Use resistance bands or very light weights.
- Many coaches and physical trainers suggest that kids should not begin any type of weight training before puberty. It would put too much strain on young muscles, tendons and growth plates. By 13, your child’s nervous system and muscles should be developed enough.
- At age 14-15, add sport specific exercises and increase the volume of training.
- By age 16, most athletes are ready for entry level adult programs, but only if they have gained a basic level of training experience. Start with higher volume – lower intensity work and gradually build to lower volume – higher intensity work
- No matter what age your child starts, the first year should be spent learning correct exercise technique and developing a general fitness base.
Strength training can:
- Increase muscle strength and endurance
- Protect your child’s muscles and joints from injury
- Improve performance in nearly any sport, from dancing and gymnastics to football and basketball
Even if your child isn’t into sports, strength training can still be good. It will:
- Strengthen bones
- Promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Boost metabolism
- Help keep a healthy weight
- Improve self-esteem
It’s always a good idea to get advice for any regime from a coach or trainer who can guide your young athlete into a safe and age-appropriate workout.
If you have a sports parenting question, please leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.