Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and
Weight Lifting and Kids
Stephen D. Ball, Ph.D., Nutritional Sciences, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia
Kids lifting weights? I know what you are thinking -
strength training is dangerous for children. Many coaches,
parents, and exercise professionals believe lifting weights
is unsafe and not beneficial for children, despite the
overwhelming research to the contrary. According to Dr.
Avery Faigenbaum, a scientist who has studied strength
training and children, under proper supervision there has
not been a single case of a serious strength training injury
involving children. Faigenbaum reminds us that there are
risks associated with all types of physical activities but
weight lifting injuries are less common than many other
types of accidents. A properly designed strength training
program can improve the strength of children, increase
cardiorespiratory fitness, increase flexibility, improve
motor fitness performance, improve body composition,
increase resistance to injury, decrease the time for
rehabilitation, enhance mental health and well being,
increase sports performance, increase adherence to physical
activity, and stimulate a more positive attitude toward
Strength training programs for children are safe and
offer many benefits as long as they are specifically
designed. Obviously, children should not be participating in
a workout designed for the St. Louis Rams. The problem is
that often college coaches obtain workouts from professional
teams and high school coaches get their programs from the
college coaches. Junior high coaches use the high school
programs as so on. Before we know it, we might have young
children performing an elite athlete's workout without any
adaptation. We must be careful to properly adapt programs
specifically with children in mind.
Exercise professionals, coaches, trainers, teachers, and
parents should familiarize themselves with the following
important guidelines to ensure the safety of children
involved in strength training. The American College of
Sports Medicine suggests:
- All strength-training activities should be supervised and monitored closely.
- Remember that children are physiologically immature.
- The primary focus, at least initially, should be directed at learning proper techniques for all exercise movements and developing an interest in resistance training.
- Proper techniques should be demonstrated first, followed by gradual application of resistance or weight.
- Proper breathing techniques (i.e., no breath holding) should be taught.
- Exercises should be performed in a manner in which the speed is controlled, avoiding ballistic (fast and jerky) movements.
- Power lifting and body building should be avoided.
- Full-range, multi-joint exercises (as opposed to single-joint exercises) should be emphasized.
- Children need to be able to understand and follow directions. There is no recommended minimum age for children to be introduced to strength training. Children as young as 5-6 years old have participated in Dr. Faigenbaum's programs.
In addition to following the American College of Sports
Medicine's Guidelines, several other things should be noted.
It is important that strength training be part of a total
conditioning program that also includes cardiorespiratory
fitness, flexibility, and agility exercises. Although there
is no minimum age required to begin a strength training
program, it is important that children have the emotional
maturity to follow directions and appreciate the benefits
and risks associated with exercise before they are ready to
begin. The first few training sessions should focus on
technique, safety issues, and correct lifting form without
inducing undue fatigue. Close supervision cannot be stressed
enough. There should be at least one instructor for every
ten students. Individuals administering the programs must
also have a thorough understanding of strength training
principles and they must be able to communicate to children
in a way that they can understand. It is wise to slowly
progress when increasing the intensity and duration of
program variables. Start with one light set of 12-15
repetitions on about 6 exercises performed 2 times a week.
It is always best to underestimate when it comes to strength
training and start out slow with little or no weight at all.
For example, when teaching the bench press, start out with a
broomstick instead of using the normal bar. When increasing
the intensity use very small increments of about 1-2 lbs.
Remember a 10 lb. increase for a child is the equivalent to
a 50-100 lb. increase for an adult on many exercises.
Obviously, this is a huge jump in intensity. A typical
program might consist of 6-15 repetitions on 6 to 8
exercises performed 2-3 times a week.
Remember that with any type of physical activity there
are risks. However, the benefits of being active and fit
greatly outweigh these risks. Weight training offers no
greater risk than other forms of physical activity, as long
as children are properly supervised and the aforementioned
guidelines suggested by the American College of Sports
Medicine are adhered to. Teaching children to be active at
an early age is crucial if they are to continue living an
active lifestyle in adulthood. Weight training is another
option that parents, teachers, and professionals should
consider when promoting physical activity for youth.
ACSM's Guidelins for Exercise Testing and Prescription. (6 ed.)(2000). Baltimore, Maryland: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Faigenbaum, A.D. (2000). Strength Training for Children and Adolescents. Clinics in Sports Medicine, 19:4, 593-615.
Faigenbaum, A.D. and Bradley, D.B. (1998). Strength Training for the Young Athlete. Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Clinics of North America: 7:1, 66-88.
Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009