This is a question that is widely asked and it is always something that holds up for debate.
This blog post I am going to dive a little deeper into what the research suggests and what are just common myths and fallacies regarding lifting weights at a young age
Well The First Question You Are Probably Wondering Is That Is It Safe For Kids To Lift Weights?
The answer from today’s top research authorities is a resounding “YES.”
Studies show that a moderate intensity strength training program can help increase strength, decrease the risks of Injury while playing sports and increase bone density in children (1).
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has also put forth a pro-strength training for children.
Myer and Avery Faigenbaum, Ed.D. are two of the foremost researchers in the field of adolescent fitness and strength training.
Both say there is almost zero downside to strength training for children, as long as they’re doing a sound program and under proper instruction (2).
What’s more, both argue teaching our kids to squat and press early in life is one of the best things we can do for them .
Gregory Myer, as mentioned above is a Ph.D., director of research and The Human Performance Laboratory for the Division of Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
He actually states that “I have no idea where these myths started, but the evidence is clear: It is absolutely safe for kids to start lifting weights early in life, provided they do so under a well-designed, supervised program,” (3).
A 2016 study analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (4) outlines that resistance training can improve a young athlete’s potential by preparing them to learn complex movements, master sports tactics, and step up to the demands of training and competition.
Furthermore, strength training actually reduces the chances of a kid getting injured playing a sport, according to a meta-analysis in Current Sports Medicine Reports .
In fact, minimal sports training isn’t enough for kids to make the neuromuscular gains they need to prevent injury and promote lifelong health, that same analysis found. Kids actually need additional activity (6).
But that does not mean kids can go lifting heavy weights and train how bodybuilders or elite athletes train. Instead they should be getting familiar with different types of resistance, like bodyweight (pushups, planks, and changing direction), free weights, bands and tubes, and other implements.
Also just as with an adult, kids work at bodyweight until they can perfect their form.
Faigenbaum says “Once a child can perform the basic movement of a bench, squat, or lift correctly, he earns the right to progress to adding weights to it” (4).
Doesn’t Lifting Early Stunt Growth?
This is probably the most common fear surrounding kids and weightlifting. It is mentioned if a child lifts weights it can stunt their growth in a couple of ways.
First, there’s concern that weightlifting will cause the growth plates in a child’s bones to fuse together prematurely, which will in turn hinder their overall growth.
The other concern is that weightlifting can somehow fracture growth plates, and consequently stunt growth that way.
But no proof exists that either of these worries are valid. According to Jordan Feigenbaum and Austin Baraki, who are both medical doctors and strength coaches, no evidence exists that suggests weightlifting inhibits a child’s growth..
Further, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, a growth plate fracture from weightlifting hasn’t been reported in any research study. In a Barbell Medicine podcast on this topic, Dr.
Feigenbaum explained that growth plate fractures are extremely rare and require a severe amount of trauma, more than a child would ever experience lifting weights safely.
To Put Into Context
When kids run and jump and play, they land and hit the ground with an impulse load of 2–10 times their body weight going through their bones and joints, Myer says.
That means a healthy 10-year-old boy can be looking at some 400kgs on his joints—which is way more than anyone’s suggesting he squat.
Without learning the proper way to jump and land—and without building a strong foundation to absorb that impact—that 10-year-old boy is at a much higher risk of injury absorbing that impact without any training under his belt.
In fact, resistance training can protect against injury and help non athletic kids develop “physical literacy” (which means they learn and understand to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life) to offset their sedentary lifestyles, according to a 2017 study published in Sports Health (4).
What Does Literature State About Which Age Is Best To Start Lifting
Kids as young as 6-8 years can start some kind of lifting and learning the basic movements and main focus is on more bodyweight and building up slowly once they have earned the right.
But should at least wait for stage 4 until a proper regimented program is started (where they’re increasing the weight every session).
Generally, children enter Tanner Stage 4 between ages 11 and 17. It’s different for each child. You might have a 12-year-old who’s in Tanner Stage 4 and physically ready to train when they’re in sixth grade. But you also might have a child who’s a late bloomer and won’t be ready to train until they’re a junior in high school.
According to Feigenbaum and Baraki, while it’s perfectly fine to let your kids do a few sets of deadlifts or squats with some light weights, focusing more on the correct functional and correct movement patterns is the best step for kids that age.
As you can see that lifting weights has no age but at the same time you have to be smart and put into context on what the goal is. Learning the correct technique, movement patterns takes precedence over anything else. That may take years to master so the earlier they start the better chance they have in improving their movement behaviours.
A proper regimented progressive program should only start once they have hit full puberty and that varies children to children. Until that is reached it is encouraged to focus on their functional movement patterns and learning to lift with just the bar or very light weights to train the neural drive of the body. This can improve performance significantly as they know how to move around on the field correctly and decrease the chance of injury.
Hope this gives an insight on lifting weights for kids and busts some common myths through some literature.