I am constantly being approached by parents asking if any damage can be caused by their child working out with weights. On one particular occasion, a concerned father expressed his hesitation with his son lifting weights too early in his life. This is how the conversation went:

Me: “So you’re not comfortable with your son doing a barbell bench press, correct?”
Father: “No, I am not.”
Me: “Is it okay if he does pushups?”
Father: “Oh absolutely!”
Me: “Does his body know the difference?”

It was at this time that a light bulb seemed to go off inside the man’s head, and I had put his mind at ease. The body recognizes what we call “weight training”, as “resistance training”. Whether it’s a barbell, dumbbell, resistance band, wind, or gravity, our bodies view it as an external load to be lifted or moved.

Having said this, does an 8-year old need to do a barbell bench press or a loaded barbell back squat to elicit a strength gain? Chances are that no, an 8-year old will get plenty of strength training by doing pushups or body-weight squats. The point is when a youth athlete is ready for added resistance, it can be accomplished with the proper programming and supervision.

Let’s dig deeper. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Strength training – which includes lifting free weights, using weight machines or doing exercises that use elastic tubing or one’s own body weight for resistance – can be safe if these rules are followed.
1. Wait until the child is old enough.
2. Get a check-up first.
3. Don’t overdo it.
4. Make sure that the child’s workouts are supervised by a qualified trainer.”

The next question parents will most assuredly ask is, “How old is old enough?” According to pediatric sports medicine specialist, Terry M. McCambridge, M.D., the child should be at least 7 or 8 because it takes at least that long for the child’s balance and posture control to mature. Of course, how much weight the child uses is affected by his/her age, strength and skill level. And, let’s remove this myth once and for all, strength training will not compromise a child’s growth. Repeat: WILL NOT! Fears about weight training affecting growth are totally unfounded.

Overall, weight training will improve children’s posture, body composition and self-image – so vital to a teen. Weight training for the overweight teen is a huge benefit. It will improve their cholesterol levels, build strength and help them lose weight. Also, these sessions could evolve into a lifelong exercise regimen.

I want to take a moment to address body building and competitive weight lifting. This is a completely different category, and the AAP has said that they are hesitant to support competitive weight lifting in children whose skeletons are still maturing. Additionally, they have gone on to say that they are opposed to children being involved with power lifting, body building, or the use of one-repetition maximum lifts as a way to determine strength gains.

Here are the AAP’s tips (combined with mine) for any kind of strength training for children:
1. Take it easy. Add weight in increments of 5-10% (upper and lower body, respectively) only after 8 to 15 repetitions can be done.
2. Focus on technique.
3. Ensure proper supervision and safety. A certified strength and conditioning coach should be present.
4. Don’t lift weights rapidly or do “explosive” lifting.
5. Strengthen all muscle groups.
6. Warm up and cool down.
7. Remember, strength training is just one part of fitness.

I, and my trainers at DC Strength Ohio, are available to answer any questions about strength training for your children. Give me a call at 440-773-6498.