Should Kids Lift Weights?
As a gym owner and strength coach, it is often times deemed self-serving when I say that kids can start training in earnest when they are as young as 8 years old.
Moreso, I think they can develop through physical exercise at as young as 3-4 years old!
This article is meant to dispel some rumors and answer questions that give real feedback on not only if young kids can train, but what that training should actually look like. Don’t be afraid!
If They Can Run They Can Train…..Kind of
In America, we look at weight training with youth athletes as an often over obsessed parent exposing their kids to potentially dangerous activities. So let’s take a look at some examples of child lifters
Holy cow! That looked super dangerous to everyone involved!
On the flip side, let’s look at some statistics for young field sport athletes according to USA TODAY
- 1.35 million ER visits per year
935 million dollars in bills (over $600 per event)
33% are sprains and strains, often caused by weak muscles or inability to absorb force
Then we have the issue of overuse. Athletes who practice or play for too many hours at a young age are at a greater risk of injury.
Take this for example:
“….young athletes who played a single sport for more hours a week than years they were old — such as a 10-year-old who played 11 or more hours of soccer — were 70% more likely to experience serious overuse injuries.”
If you think this is uncommon, think again. How many of your athletes, or athletes you know, go away to tournaments for an entire weekend. Here, 12 year old’s are left playing 2-4+ games in a short period of time, not to mention practices and skills lessons taught with instructors during the week.
This is why I say training at all ages is so important.
Most injuries I see with athletes happen because they were over-competing and under-preparing from a young age.
Let’s change the cycle.
Weight Training Will Stunt Kids Growth
I am by no means a giant, but at over 6 feet tall I am hardly short either. I began weight training at 12/13 years old. Better yet, I was 5’1 when I started the 7th grade (12) and I was 5’10 when I started the 8th grade (13).
Clearly, weight training didn’t impact my growth and in fact, may have helped spur my body’s release of growth hormone and given me the jump I needed.
In this LiveStrong article, they talk about some of the myths of weight training stunting growth.
My favorite myth is that of closing growth plates.
Many parents and coaches are concerned that strength training will impact the growth plates and stop their child from growing. However, they and others will overlook the amount of fractured growth plates that occur in sports like baseball, soccer, and basketball.
Look, a strength training program!
Often, the fractures occur due to the athlete being ill prepared to absorb the forces being applied to their body. What is the best way to learn to absorb and use force? You guessed it, strength training!
Now, I am not going to say that asking little Johnny to deadlift 3x his body weight, at age 9, on his first day of lifting is OK, because it isn’t, for reasons we will discuss. However, to think that good training done by a professional coach, who has spent years learning their craft, is worse for a kid than competing on a soccer team where a dad who played 20 years ago is the coach, you need to rethink what training actually is and does.
What Does Good Youth Training Look Like?
There are coaches and trainers around the country who give my profession a bad name. Whether they know they are doing it or not is up for debate. Yet there are a number of things to look for when trying to choose a quality facility, or work with a trainer or coach.
(A note: this is my opinion on things – not facts ruled by science. However, I have worked with over 1,000 athletes from all walks of life and every level possible. I have seen or spoken with the best in the world at doing what I do. So when you read this, know that’s where I am coming from.)
- There is an understanding of the athletes: I stole this from coach Jeremy Frisch – “Young athletes are not mini-elite athletes”. What this means, is that the training that goes into making an elite athlete isn’t the same as what goes into making an elite high school athlete, or a youth athlete. The intensity, training, and movement selections should be considered for each level. While I may race my high school athletes in a 20 yard dash, I might want to play red light green light with young athletes instead. Now, we’re still teaching competition and running, along with deceleration and a visual and auditory reactionary stimulus. This is candy for the brain of a young athlete, that develops the ability for future work to make sense and have benefit.
- We Teach and Play: A 10 year old athlete shouldn’t be competing all the time. It creates a situation where winning is the sole purpose. Do you know what happens when you need to win? You try not to fail. You forget to experiment. You close yourself off to the possible. You stay rigid and uninventive. You become a poor athlete. Instead, we play with things. Let’s shuffle, and have fun. Let’s sprint and have fun. Let’s play tag and have fun. Now we create opportunities for our athletes to find themselves. Not robots. Living breathing creative movers.
- Sessions are Short: We are trying to make better movers and happy kids. Why would we crush them with 2 hour sessions? Furthermore, their attention is finite, we want them to love things so much they don’t want the session to end! If kids leave smiling, and sweaty, and we taught them how to be better, we are winning. Find a theme for that day, give them some coaching and let them get out of there. When in doubt, remember rule 1.
- We Strength Train: This doesn’t mean that we are deadlifting max effort, but we are doing push ups, split squats, throwing med balls, jumping, squatting and pushing things. Growth stunting? Hardly. In a decade+ of training I have never had an athlete who started lifting early who wasn’t a product of their genetics. If both parents are short, Yao Ming most likely isn’t in the cards. Even this WebMD article states children can train as early as 7 or 8 with no negative effects!
Don’t Fear What You Don’t Understand
The biggest impact on parents and kids thoughts on training has much to do with ratings and “hot topics” that news channels will sensationalize. It isn’t something that truly is or isn’t, but rather a ratings booster that uses fear to promote thoughts and engagement.
Our mission as coaches and trainers and dare I say fitness professionals, is to give you the real information, backed by both science and experience of application.
While I won’t convince every parent or athlete that training from a young age is safe, I hope that I can create the thoughts and discussions that can lead parents and athletes to the right answers and their own ability to fairly judge what they can and should not do.
If I have done that, maybe we can save a few more kids from injury and pain, and help a few others live happier and healthier lives.