Weight lifting for student athletes
J. Hunt Udall is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports injuries at Cardon Children's Medical Center.
Question: My 9-year-old son plays competitive soccer and wants to start a weight lifting program. Is this safe at his age, and how can I make sure he doesn’t overdo it?
Answer: A weight training and conditioning program can be safe and beneficial for children as long as certain precautions are taken. Under the right supervision, a program can improve posture, performance in sports, overall health, and self-esteem. For some young athletes, weight lifting programs can even prevent sports-related injuries by strengthening various muscles and improving core strength.
Weight lifting programs are appropriate for children who are at least 7 to 8 years old. By this age, children have enough balance and control over posture to make the program beneficial. Before your son starts a program, you should both visit your pediatrician. The doctor can help evaluate what level of training is appropriate based on your son’s height, weight, and body composition.
Once your child has permission from his doctor, make sure his program is supervised by a trainer or coach with experience in this field. This is the most important step in preventing injury and overuse. A good trainer will teach him about proper form, taking rests, warming up, cooling down, and working all muscle groups.
Finally, while weight training and conditioning are appropriate, body building, competitive weight lifting, and explosive exercises are not. Instead of building muscle mass like adults do, children build strength and endurance through a supervised weight training program. Although weight programs can enhance a child's strength and conditioning, a child should focus primarily on sports-specific drills and training to improve performance.