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How young is “too young” to lift weights?

In my last blog I covered the misconceptions of lifting weights as we get older. Today we go to the other end of the spectrum, which is as equally misinformed with regards to children starting resistance training.

Across social media we see a growing trend of children involved in barbell training. Whether it’s supplementary training for their sport or weightlifting for competition. But there still remains a stigma or controversy towards children and weightlifting. This can make it extremely difficult for a parent to make an informed choice if they consider enrolling their child into a programme.

What are the concerns?

The most common worries for parents is injury risk and belief that lifting weights may stunt their growth by causing damage to the bone.

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Injury risk is always there, in any sport. But statistically weightlifting has a fairly low injury rate when compared to other sports. In one study, the overall injury rate per 100 participant hours was 1.92 for rugby and 6.2 for football and 0.0017 for weightlifting.

The biggest factor keeping injury risk so low is supervision and good coaching within a structured setting. Especially with children, keeping them focused on correct technique and giving appropriate programming to match their ability.

Another common myth of children weightlifting is that it causes damage to growth plates of the bone which could stunt healthy growth. There has actually been no scientific evidence or case studies to show that growth plates become damaged from weightlifting.  The most common cases of growth plate damage come from popular high impact sports like football, hockey, basketball and volleyball.

What are the benefits?

Weightlifting has been shown to decrease injury rates by increasing bone strength, tendon strength and improving the strength of stabiliser muscles to prevent injury during practice and competition.

During preadolescence we have heightened neural proliferation and central nervous system (CNS) maturation. With increased load and stress on the body with resistance training provides an additional stimulus to the already natural proliferation taking place. This results in a boost in neural development compared to youth who do not partake in resistance training.

How and where to start?

  • Firstly this does not mean your 7 year old will be throwing around heavy weights. There’s a process to building up a child’s competence with functional movement.
  • Finding a gym that offers a programme for kids, which can be adapted to the ability of each child and that they’re supervised by a qualified coach.

Development of trainingTo begin with, every child needs to learn functional movement patterns without any weights to have competency and understand the movement. With repeated exposure it develops whats called their “training age”. This is not their physical age, the years spent participating in their chosen sport/activity. A child at 7 years old, exposed regularly to a functional skill movements programme will have a higher training age by the time they reach puberty. This gives them a greater advantage to grasp the more complex tasks and see greater fitness gains in later stages of development.

Hopefully this will give you more confidence entering your child into a weightlifting programme. It is safe for children of all ages to lift weight as long as it’s supervised by an experienced trainer. Understand that the reward far greater than the risk.

 
  • Hamill B, 1994 Relative safety of weight lifting and weight training.
  • Legerlotz et al, 2016 Physiological Adaptations following Resistance Training in Youth Athletes-A Narrative Review
  • Malina RM, 2006 Weight training in youth-growth, maturation, and safety: an evidence-based review.
  • Powell et al, 1999 Injury patterns in selected high school sports: a review of the
  • Neurological benefits
  • Negra et al, 2016 Effects of High-Velocity Resistance Training on Athletic Performance in Prepuberal Male Soccer Athletes