There is a myth that persists, despite any proof backing it up, that weightlifting isn’t safe for kids because it will stunt their growth. Awhile back, some experts warned that weight training at a very young age may damage the child’s growth plates which are weaker than tendons and ligaments, making them susceptible to damage and other complications.
However, recent research has shown that when performed under the right conditions, there can be excellent benefits for children who weightlift. Children are now encouraged to engage in strength training to increase bone, tendon, and ligament strength which all reduce the risk of injury and improve sports performance.
In 2010, the AAP published a review in which researchers from the Institute of Training Science and Sports Informatics in Cologne, Germany, analyzed 60 years worth of studies of children and weightlifting. The studies showed that every child, boys and girls aged between 6 to 18, grew stronger from weight training. The research concluded, “regardless of maturational age, children generally seem to be capable of increasing muscular strength.”
When are they ready?
Despite the AAP study that involved children as young as 6 years old, most parents and coaches agree that the ideal age for kids to start strength training is whatever age they are ready to participate in organized sports. If your child is old enough to listen to directions, understand proper form, and follow safety procedures, then they are ready.
For most kids, this occurs around the age of 7 or 8 years old. At this age, most children will have developed skills in balance and body control which also determine readiness.
How to begin.
No matter what age you and your child decide to start, remember to begin with light weights. Focus on repetition. If your child is unable to do eight reps with a certain weight, then it is too heavy. Once a child can successfully perform 15 reps, then they are ready to progress to a weight 10% heavier.
Stay away from the machines.
Most gym machines such as the leg press, chest fly, and leg extension may force kids to work through unnatural movements that they may not be able to execute safely and correctly.
Watch their form.
Kids will wind up injured if they execute poor form. If they cannot achieve good form, they may be excessively loading. Start light and master form above all else. Once they have mastered their own body weight, they can start with a resistance that will allow for 12 to 15 reps, perfect technique required.
Developing muscle strength
At a younger age, weightlifting will help your child develop muscle strength which will be evident through firmer muscles. They will not yet develop bigger muscles because the hormones responsible for increasing muscle size are not yet present and won’t be until puberty. But remember, bigger muscles don’t always translate to better performance in sports, but muscle strength does.
Remember, that even with all the benefits that weightlifting has on your child’s development as a young athlete, take caution to your child’s own readiness despite what the research says. Gyms can be potentially dangerous for children who are not quite emotionally mature and may view the equipment as toys or the gym as a playground.