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Weight Training for Children and Adolescents

Can Children Weight Train Safely?

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Updated October 18, 2012

Child weightlifting

Students Train at a Sports School in Beijing

Photo by Guang Niu/Getty Images

Sports medicine authorities have been refining the recommendations for weight training for children and adolescents for quite a few years. Views regarding the hazards of weight training for this group have become more relaxed over time. Gone are the dire predictions of growth abnormalities and injury, providing a few precautions are implemented.

Here is a summary of the updated policy from the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness.

Strength Training by Children and Adolescents

  • Strength training programs for pre-adolescents and adolescents can be safe and effective if proper resistance training techniques and safety precautions are followed.
  • Pre-adolescents and adolescents should avoid competitive weight lifting, power lifting, body building, and maximal lifts until they reach physical and skeletal maturity.

When pediatricians are asked to recommend or evaluate strength training programs for children and adolescents, the following issues should be considered:

  1. Before beginning a formal strength training program, a medical evaluation should be performed by a pediatrician. If indicated, a referral may be made to a sports medicine physician who is familiar with various strength training methods as well as risks and benefits in pre-adolescents and adolescents.
  2. Aerobic conditioning should be coupled with resistance training if general health benefits are the goal.
  3. Strength training programs should include a warm-up and cool-down component.
  4. Specific strength training exercises should be learned initially with no load (resistance). Once the exercise skill has been mastered, incremental loads can be added.
  5. Progressive resistance exercise requires successful completion of 8 to 15 repetitions in good form before increasing weight or resistance.
  6. A general strengthening program should address all major muscle groups and exercise through the complete range of motion.
  7. Any sign of injury or illness from strength training should be evaluated before continuing the exercise in question.

Is This a Reasonable Policy?

Avoidance of competition until maturity. This sounds reasonable because of certain maturity issues, especially in boys. Growth conditions, such as Osgood-Schlatter disease (in which knee pain occurs in young athletes) is probably an example of a condition that could be made worse by extreme weight training. On the other hand, this condition arises in adolescents playing other sports without any preemptive restriction. And there are examples of young boys starting Olympic lifting at an early age and progressing with remarkable capability and safety.

Medical evaluation before a formal strength program. While this is an excellent idea, "formal" is the key word. School children frequently spend an hour or so at gyms as part of school fitness programs. They are usually supervised by a teacher and gym staff and try a range of exercise equipment from aerobic machines to free and machine weights. Most of this activity is no more dangerous than swinging a bat, jumping over a bar or hurling a javelin at school.

Initial resistance training should be without load. This is quite unnecessary and it does not even make sense. It is not possible to productively practice an exercise without load -- even when learning -- because some load is required to create the conditions under which good form can be derived. Even a bare bar without plates has weight. The policy should be changed to reflect "light resistance" rather than "no resistance."

The complete policy statement is available online.

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