Q: What is an appropriate age for kids to start lifting weights?
A: For decades we were fed the line that kids under 15 were not yet ready for weight training – apparently their bones were too brittle. Meanwhile, the western world has stumbled into an obesity epidemic that is threatening to devour our children. Fortunately, most informed specialists now realize that properly supervised weight training is not an unsafe activity for children. According to Dr. Avery Faigenbaum of the University of Massachusetts in Boston, “the risk of injury while strength training is actually lower than many other children’s sports and activities.” In fact, nearly all major medical and fitness organizations in the United States now support some form of supervised strength training program.
So how old should the kid be? Dr. Faigenbaum suggests that if a child is ready for organized sports, then he’s ready for strength training. Of course, all gym-going dads would love to have their youngsters pumping iron alongside them, but the real key is to wait until the kid shows an interest in getting stronger. The message, then, is don’t push your kids into it – let them initiate the idea.
Strength training for children should be just one part of a well-rounded exercise program – one that also includes endurance, flexibility and agility training. While the child may be physically ready for weight training, he is still psychologically, physiologically and anatomically less mature than us adults. So don’t go throwing the kid into your mass building chest workout. Instead structure safe, fun exercises that emphasize proper exercise technique. There is plenty of time for the child to start increasing poundage’s later.
Youth strength training has many benefits. One is that the incidence of sports related injury is greatly reduced. This is due to the strengthening of ligaments and tendons that is a by-product of lifting weights. Weight training for young people is also a key strategy in combating childhood obesity. Fine motor skills like sprinting and jumping are also enhanced when a child engages in a weight-training program.
In terms of designing a specific program for your child, start off with relatively high reps (10-15) on the 3 basic exercises (bench press, squat, dead-lift) twice per week for the first month. Don’t let your kid train alone during this time, as you want to get them into the groove of proper exercise performance. During the second month, add in shoulder press, barbell curls and tricep pushdowns. In month three, bring the reps down to the 8-12 range as you add a little weight. From there, endeavor to vary the routines from month to month to keep your kid interested and motivated.
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