Opponents said pre-pubescent children with flexible, growing bones shouldn’t strength train because of the risk of injury, both short- and long-term. Concerns included damaging soft tissue, like ligaments and tendons, stressing “green” bones and accidents due to lack of maturity.
Times Have Changed
But, as youth sports become both more structured and more competitive, parents are becoming increasingly concerned about their child’s performance, looking for ways to make them both more adept at their sport and safer. Not surprisingly, more strength coaches, trainers and pediatricians are being asked, “At what age is it safe for my child to begin weight lifting?”
The consensus? If a child is taking part in organized sports, it’s probably OK to begin some sort of weight lifting program. That means that by the age most kids are playing T-ball – about seven – they’re ready to be introduced to weight lifting.
The American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics all agree that even very young athletes can benefit from a weight training program. Supervised strength training can help them develop confidence, a better skill set, make them less prone to injury and even help them develop stronger bones. And, if they are injured, they’re likely to recover more quickly if they weight trained.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should buy a weight belt, lycra and knee wraps and drop them off at the local muscle shop. There are some important caveats.
Selecting the Proper Strength Training Program for your Child
Begin by making sure your child is mentally ready to take part in a program. There are safety issues with weight lifting, and a child must be mature enough to take coaching well and to look at weight training as both fun and beneficial. Children who have difficulty paying attention and following direction might be better off waiting a year or two before beginning to strength train.
This is one activity where you need to make sure they’re making the decision to train and not you. Proper motivation can be a critical component of a successful training program.
Chose a gym or lifting program that has at least one coach for every 10 lifters. Again, safety is a factor and a gym with too little supervision, especially for young lifters, can be an accident waiting to happen. Find out what type of training your child will receive, and if his progress will be tracked. You want to know that your child’s workout progress is being monitored and adjusted so he can see gains from all his hard work.
Bodyweight and Broomsticks
If you plan on coaching your child yourself, here are a few tips that might make it more rewarding for both of you:
The key to safe and successful lifting for younger athletes is making sure exercises are taught correctly and that initial weights aren’t too stressful. A great way to get started is by using things like broomsticks instead of weight bars. Teach a movement with a light implement and gradually transition to bars, then bars with weights, adding to loads in 2.5- to 5-pound increments.
For leg exercises, start by using no weights at all, just your child’s own body weight. Work hard on balance as you teach technique.
Hold off on some of the more complex exercises, and any overhead lift until your child is more familiar with the basics and has developed enough general strength to be stable. Overhead lifts can be especially hazardous for young lifters whose concentration tends to wander.
Two to three sets with a weight that allows 8-12 reps is plenty for almost all exercises. And limit workouts to twice a week. That’s a great way to get youngsters interested without making them feel like weight lifting is boring.
At regular intervals, add new exercises. Cycling through different workouts with different sets and reps is a great way to avoid boredom.
A good weight lifting program should provide young athletes with challenges, opportunities to learn and benefits that range from increased strength and stability to increased flexibility. And, it’s virtually never too early to start.
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