I’m sure you may have heard this before, “Children shouldn’t train with weights because it stunts their growth.” I for one, am sick of hearing this, so we’ll put this old wives’ tale to rest, from the get-go. Current research suggests that when children perform regular, supervised strength training with appropriate prescription and coaching, it does not negatively affect growth or maturation (Malina, 2006). I’m glad we got that out of the way. Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. At this point you’re probably asking, “But why would lifting weights benefit my son or daughter?” I’m glad you asked!
Benefits of strength training
To start with, a stronger athlete is a better athlete. If your child is able to produce more force against an external component, they will be able to run faster, jump higher, kick/throw further and perform movements with more power. This leads me to my next point: confidence.
Children whom generally struggle athletically tend to have less self-confidence and therefore be less willing to carry out outdoor activities with their peers. In the long term, this makes them more susceptible to developing weight issues, metabolic conditions and even mental health issues.
The third major benefit should be the most obvious: More active children, are healthier children. By participating in regular strength training, your child is developing healthy habits early on. They are less likely to get injured playing their sport, as their movement patterns and force transfer will be performed in a more controlled manner. They are also less likely to get injured performing strength training later in their life due to poor form, because they have already been taught the right way to do things.
You may still have some objections to children performing strength training. You may be thinking things such as: “Isn’t lifting all that weight dangerous?” “Won’t my child get injured?” Well in short, no. Researchers have looked into this topic quite extensively and found that you are far more likely to get injured playing soccer or other common team sports, than you are by lifting weights.
The other objection you may be thinking is: “I’ve got a daughter. She doesn’t want to look all muscular and masculine.” Luckily for her, she won’t. Most of the strength gains children make are neurological, meaning that the brain becomes more efficient and effective, and using the body’s muscles to perform movements. The other factor at play is that children, and females in particular, don’t possess the metabolic characteristics to perform weight training for a few months and then step onto a body building stage. This is unless of course your child is a genetic marvel, the likes of which the world has never seen.
How to introduce strength training to your child/teen
Now that I’ve convinced you that strength training won’t hurt your child, but will in fact help them and make them healthier, I’ll provide some tips for introducing your child or teenager into strength training:
The youngest age that a child should start strength training is 6 years old. This is however dependent upon the level of maturity and ability to follow instructions of the individual (Baker et al., 2007).
Ensure the child’s training has a heavy focus on technique and start by lifting very light loads. If there is any sign of form breakdown, it needs to be addressed immediately before any progression should be made.
Children should always be supervised by somebody with appropriate qualifications and knowledge, such as an Accredited Exercise Physiologist.
Lastly, your child should enjoy the process. If they don’t have fun, they are less likely to continue their training and progress to the best of their ability.
Now that you are armed with this fantastic new knowledge, you can feel assured that it is not only safe for your child to train for strength, but also healthy and beneficial for them in the long-term.
Baker, D., Mitchel, J., Boyle, D., Currell, S., Currell, P., Wilson, G., Bird, S., O’Connor, D & Jones, J. (2007). ASCA Position Stand: Resistance Training for Children and Youth. Retrieved from https://www.strengthandconditioning.org/resistance-training-for-child-and-youth
Malina, R. (2006). Weight Training in Youth-Growth, Maturation & Safety: An Evidence-Based Review. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 16(6), 478-487.