HEALTHY LIVING: Weight lifting: How young is too young?

Published 11:33 pm Wednesday, July 22, 2015

By Jody Holton
This is a dilemma we face often at the Y. Parents are sometimes quite insistent on bringing pre-adolescents in to begin a weight training regimen. Our policy is, no one under age 11 is admitted to the weight room, and ages 12-14 must complete a strength training orientation with one of our Health and Wellness Staff. This is based on sound medical advice.
A short and to the point answer is that a boy should not start lifting weights before he hits puberty, usually around 12 to 13 years old. The main reason for this is simply due to a developmental difference in boys who have hit puberty and those boys that have not. Pre-pubescent boys simply do not have the amount of natural steroid production that boys who have arrived at puberty have. This steroid production accounts for many things, but one thing it does is it allows boys to have the ability to build muscle.
While strength training can be good and offers many benefits to young athletes, don’t confuse strength training with weightlifting, bodybuilding or powerlifting. These activities are largely driven by competition, with participants vying to lift heavier weights or build bigger muscles than those of other athletes. This can put too much strain on young muscles, tendons and areas of cartilage that haven’t yet turned to bone (growth plates) — especially when proper technique is sacrificed in favor of lifting larger amounts of weight.
For kids, light resistance and controlled movements are best — with a special emphasis on proper technique and safety. Your child can do many strength training exercises with his or her own body weight or inexpensive resistance tubing.
First and foremost, check with your child’s doctor for the OK to begin a strength training program, especially if your child has a known or suspected health problem such as a heart condition, high blood pressure or a seizure disorder.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), strength training — which includes lifting free weights, using weight machines, or doing exercises that use elastic tubing or one’s own body weight for resistance — can be safe, if these rules are followed:
Wait until the child is old enough.
Get a check-up first.
Don’t overdo it.
Make sure the child’s workouts are supervised by a qualified trainer who emphasizes safety and correct technique.
I will emphasize the term, “Qualified Trainer.” Exposure to a variety of sports and fitness-based games such as tag and tug of war is the best approach for younger kids. As they reach that middle and high school age, you can start implementing more of a structured approach to strength training. But proceed with caution.
Jody Holton is Marketing Director for the YMCA of Southeast Texas. Contact her at

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