I get asked this question almost daily, so if it’s something you’ve pondered as a parent, know that you are not alone. Sports are more competitive than they used to be, and many parents hope to get an early edge in order to help their children work toward a college scholarship. There is no easy answer, but looking at few factors can help make sure that if and how they lift weights is safe as well as beneficial.
First and foremost, athletes at any level should be able to master their body weight before adding additional resistance. This means developing proficiency with the basics, such as push ups, chin ups, planks, and balance activities. Additionally, training like sprints and hill running can build muscle and improve performance. It is not at all uncommon to have an athlete who wants to start bench pressing, yet he or she cannot even do ten push ups with proper form (and unfortunately, we see this issue across all age groups).
Every child develops at a different pace, so going by age is difficult. Typically once the child starts to develop secondary sex characteristics (voice change, body hair, breast development in females), more serious weight training can begin. Prior to that age, body weight and elastic bands may provide a safer form of resistance. The true key when it comes to weightlifting for children is ensuring that proper form, resistance level and rest intervals are followed. The National Strength and Conditioning Association has a comprehensive position statement on the issue. Most injuries occur from improper form, loading too much weight on the bar, or dropping weights due to lack of concentration or horse play. Proper coaching and supervision is the key.
Chris Gabriel, OCS (Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist), CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist), practices physical therapy with the OrthoCarolina Wellness Center. Chris and his team treat a range of patients for orthopedic and sports medicine needs. He enjoys working with various local high school, college, and professional sports teams.