Weight Room No Longer Off-Limits to Kids

Strength training is an important part of physical conditioning for adults, along with aerobic exercise and stretching for flexibility. But what is OK for kids to do when it comes to strength training?

Although experts once thought that kids should not train with weights, that attitude has changed. Experts now say that strength training is fine for kids, as long as they are supervised and don't try to lift too much weight.

One reason that doctors discouraged children from lifting weights in the past was a concern that kids' growing bones would be damaged. The rate of growth plate fractures have not been reported in programs designed by experts with appropriate supervision.

Benefits of strength training

Strength training builds muscle strength when done properly. It builds bone density and strengthens ligaments and tendons. It also improves athletic performance and can help young athletes avoid injuries. It can help a child who is overweight lose extra pounds.

A child who is strength training can use:

  • Free weights
  • His or her own body weight
  • Fitness machines
  • Devices such as elastic bands

Strength training focuses on using lighter weights through many repetitions. It is unlike weight lifting and power lifting which are competitive sports that focus on lifting heavy weights.

Kids should not participate in weight lifting or power lifting. They also should avoid bodybuilding which focuses on building muscle mass. This is because their muscles will not increase in size until after puberty.

How old is old enough?

A 5- or 6-year-old may be able to do exercises that use the body's own weight, such as push-ups and sit-ups. These should be introduced only when the child is old enough to follow directions and use proper form. A child of 7 or 8 may be old enough to use free weights. But he or she should know to be careful with them and lift them safely under supervision.

A general rule about readiness for strength training is as follows. When a child is old enough to participate in organized sports, then he or she probably is also old enough to begin training with weights.

A big part of any strength training program for kids is enjoyment. Kids should have fun doing the exercises. They should be given breaks in between the exercises, as well as time to warm up and cool down.

Here are some suggestions for a safe strength training program for kids:

  • The primary focus should be skill development and having fun.
  • Strength training can be done two to three times a week, but with at least one day of rest between sessions.
  • The program should include all major muscle groups and go through a full range of motion.
  • Each session should begin with a warm up and end with a cool down.
  • A typical program might have one set of 10 to 15 repetitions for 6 to 8 different exercises.
  • A trainer or coach should be present at each session to make sure that the child is following proper form and to act as a spotter.
  • The workouts should change so the child doesn't become bored with the same drill of exercises each time.