Weight training for children
Douglas Mangan, MD, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center.
Question: Is weight training safe for children? How do I know how much exercise is too much at a certain age?
Answer: Children from grade school to high school are competing in athletics of all levels and, though exercise is good for all children, every activity isn’t suitable for every child.
Looking to achieve a competitive edge, parents and young athletes may find themselves bombarded with confusing, and often conflicting, information regarding the safety and effectiveness of youth strength training. Studies suggest children as young as 6 can improve strength and may enhance fitness skills and sports performance when following age-specific guidelines for strength training. Strength training shows no effect on growth patterns; however, parents should create a well-supervised program to decrease the risk of injury.
Body weight exercises (e.g., sit-ups, push-ups) are best for beginning a program. Early emphasis should be placed on abdominal and shoulder strengthening, as these appear to be “the weak link” and are more prone to injury in the early training periods.
For those ready to start using weights, proper form and technique should be emphasized throughout the program. If parents are not familiar with the proper form and technique, they should have their children work with a professional coach or trainer at least in the beginning of the program to prevent strain or injury.
Strength training should take place 2-3 times per week with a minimum of 1 day of rest between sessions and should involve all muscle groups with a focus on full range of motion to develop strength while maintaining flexibility. Workouts should include 10-15 minutes of stretching to warm up as well as cool down. Focus should be placed on participation and proper technique rather than the amount of weight lifted. Weights should be selected to allow 10-15 repetitions. When a child can perform 3 sets of 15 repetitions of a given exercise in 3 consecutive sessions, more weight may be gradually added. Using workout cards helps monitor progress. Adding variety helps optimize training and prevent boredom.
Strength training programs can result in significant strength gains and possible performance enhancement without significant risk of injury, provided programs follow appropriate guidelines and are well supervised. Care should be taken to allow children a voice in their participation. As a result, exercise in children can foster enjoyable, healthy habits that may last a lifetime.