Dr. Turner is a pediatric sports medicine physician at Novant Health Pediatric Sports Medicine – Midtown.
The two biggest myths about children participating in strength training seem to be that it’s not safe and that it may stunt a child’s growth.
Both myths have been evaluated in various studies and shown to be false. Most injuries that occur in strength training are due to improper technique, lack of proper supervision or attempts to lift too much weight. Strength training can include handheld weights, weight machines, resistance bands and even your own body weight.
With proper planning and appropriate supervision, strength training can be safe and effective for children. With appropriate supervision, participating in strength training carries less injury risk than actually playing a sport.
There can be significant benefits to strength training for children, even those who haven’t reached puberty. The American Academy of Pediatrics has noted that around ages 7 or 8, kids likely have the control and balance needed to perform a strength training program.
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Before puberty, kids are able to get stronger even though they’re not likely to develop visibly larger muscles. Kids of this age get stronger by improving their coordination of different muscle groups.
Strength training is an important part of injury prevention for older children and adolescents. Specific programs have been designed to help decrease the risk of serious knee injuries suchas ACL tears.
It’s best to have children start by performing exercises using just their body weight. This can include planks, pushups, squats and lunges. A key is to make sure kids are able to perform a motion or exercise with proper form before adding any weight.
Strength workouts can be 20 to 30 minutes, two or three days per week. There doesn’t seem to be any added benefit to kids training more than four days per week. It’s important to include rest days to avoid overuse injuries. Kids can improve their strength by increasing the number of repetitions or sets of an exercise, prior to adding weight.
Children should avoid powerlifting, bodybuilding and maximum weight lifts until they reach physical and skeletal maturity. For girls, that’s about ages 14 to 17 and for boys about 18 to 22.
Know the risks
As with adults, it’s important to speak with a medical provider before a child starts strength training. While not common, some medical conditions could make it unsafe for children to do specific strength training. A provider can help identify muscle groups that are most in need of improved strength, as well as activities to avoid.
Sudden pain in a joint or muscle can be a sign of injury, and children in pain should stop that activity and seek medical attention. Children and adolescents should be counseled on the significant risks of steroids and be advised to avoid these and other substances marketed as ways to improve strength.
You don’t have to be a professional athlete to get world-class care for your sports-related needs. Download our guide on common sports-related injuries.