Should Children Lift Weights?
Children pumping iron? Many orthopedic and sports medicine physicians used to warn against weight lifting and other types of strength training because of its potential damage to the open growth plates of children. However, Kenny P., P.T., A.T.C., director of The Christ Hospital Sports Medicine Institute, agrees with several fitness organizations that now say strength training is okay for children, provided it’s done correctly and the program is tailored to the needs of their growing bodies.
“Between the ages of 7 and 12, a child develops the physiological training patterns and neuropatterns which provide coordination and agility skills,” Ken explained. “It’s a great time to get children active in physical activities, ranging from modified weight lifting to strength sports like soccer, gymnastics and swimming, and build a lifelong interest in fitness.”
The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) says supervised resistance-training programs, when done correctly, enhance kids’ strength, motor fitness skills, and athletic performance, and can even help prevent injuries. Children as young as six can be taught the proper techniques; however, adults should supervise and spot children when lifting weights. The association recommends focusing on fun-oriented, rather than goal-directed, programs.
Ken, who works with professional teams like the Mighty Ducks and supervises athletic training programs at more than 20 high schools, notes that children should not perform maximum weight lifts until their growth plates close. This typically occurs at around age 14 in girls and age 16 in boys. However, he notes that people of any age can benefit from calisthenics in which the body works against its own weight, such as in sit ups, leg lifts and push ups. He also agrees with the following weight lifting guidelines for children provided by the NSCA and the American Council on Exercise:
- limit workouts to two to three per week and rest a minute or two between exercises
- perform one set of 7 or 8 simple exercises at 10 – 15 repetitions
- perform single-joint moves, such as biceps, curls, or leg extensions
- for resistance, use 2- to 5-pound dumbbells and body-weight exercises such as push-ups
- avoid overhead lifts and bench-presses, which can be dangerous if you lose control of weights
- don’t perform single maximal lifts of sudden explosive movements
- don’t use equipment that is damaged or that does not fit properly
The risk of injuries to children participating in resistance-training programs is low; however, injuries can occur in any sport. Proper supervision and precautions should always be part of the program.
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