When I was growing up, children were not allowed to work out in the weight room of my local gym until they turned 12. There were fears that resistance training would damage undeveloped joints and that there were no actual benefits. Research has shown that was false. Participating in sports generally puts more stress on joints than lifting does. We also now know that while kids naturally gain strength as they grow older, the strength gains from resistance training go beyond that of natural growth and development.2
There are many benefits for children who weight train including improved athletic performance, muscle strength, bone strength, decreased risk of injury while playing sports, decreased body fat, improved insulin sensitivity, and enhanced cardiac function.1, 2
Is My Child Ready?
Don't go setting your kids loose in the weight room just yet! Check these boxes off your list to see if your child is ready to start resistance training.
- My child listens and follows directions well.
- My child wants to resistance train.
- My child is not participating in too many other activities.
If your child met the above requirements, there are precautions to take to keep them safe in the weight room. The biggest key word here is supervision. The person who is designing and supervising these workout sessions should know and follow guidelines for strength training children. Kids should be taught proper technique and should be corrected with every lift until their form is perfect. A breakdown in technique will lead to an injury, which is especially true when the weights start getting heavier. Be sure to also teach them about general safety including avoiding pinched fingers and dropped weights.
Big muscles should not be a goal with children who are weight training, because it's just not realistic. Increases in muscle mass will start to be possible once they start going through puberty and have more hormones.2 Until then, you can still expect to see gains in strength, but this will be due to improvements in coordination and muscle fibers learning to contract more efficiently.
Injury can still happen, even when you tried to do everything right. Be prepared to recognize and respond to a possible injury. Some signs of an injury include pain, swelling, loss of motion, and weakness. Ask yourself why this is happening. Was it the technique, too much weight, a growth spurt, poor program design, or something else? Don't be afraid to ask a medical professional for help.
With all of this in mind, letting your child resistance train can be a positive and beneficial experience. Once again, please make sure they are supervised by an appropriately trained professional.
For more information visit MUSC Health Sports Medicine.
1. Faigenbaum, A. D., & Myer, G. D. (2009). Resistance training among young athletes: Safety, efficacy and injury prevention effects. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(1), 56-63. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2009.068098
2. Haff, G. G., & Triplett, N. T. (2016). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.