When should your child start resistance training?
Updated: Jun 1, 2019
We often get asked the question “What is the right age for youth (children and adolescents) to start lifting weights?” We continuously hear weight training at an early age is deemed unsafe and stunts growth development. However it’s okay for youth to carry a heavy backpack around school or participate in organized sports when they are not physically prepared for the demands of the sport... But the thought of youth lifting weights in the gym sets off alarm bells of high risks of injury during the development phase. This misconception might place youth at higher risks of injuries in their organized sport or delay coordination development.
Currently there are no evidence-based regards to the minimum age required for youth to start lifting weights. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association position statement on youth resistance training, youth may start a resistance training program when they are physically and mentally inclined to follow coaching instructions (1).
Potential benefits of youth resistance training has been well documented to increase physical characteristics such as muscle strength, power, muscular endurance, bone mass, cardiorespiratory, reduce sports-related injuries, improve body composition, motor performance skills, and enhance sports performance (3). In addition, resistance training improves psychological characteristics such as mental health, confidence and self-esteem (3). Faigenbaum et al. (2) reported children (8-12yrs) who participated in strength training program twice a week over an 8-week period demonstrated strength gains of 74.3% compared to 13% gains in the control group (did not participate in strength training program). Furthermore, the strength training group demonstrated an improvement of 13.8% for vertical jump compared to 7.7% improvement from the control group. In regard to body composition, the strength training group significantly decreased their body fat (-2.3%), whereas the control group increased their body composition (+1.7%). This research further supports the benefits and positive adaptations from implementing a strength training program in youth.
Resistance training general guidelines for youth (Based on the National Strength and Conditioning Association)
· Dynamic warm up: 5-10 minutes (e.g., arm circle, walking knee hug, high knee, butt kicker, straight leg march, walking airplane, lunge with rotation, side shuffle, forward-backward hop, side-to-side hop, hip twist)
· Training Frequency: 2-3x/wk on nonconsecutive days
· Training Intensity: light load then gradually progress load (Focus on proper technique instead of load)
· Training Volume (sets x reps x load): Beginners – 1 to 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions, Experience – 3 sets of 6-8 repetitions for multi-joint exercises and 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions for single-joint exercises.
· Rest Intervals: about 1 minute between sets
· Choice of exercise: body weight, elastic bands, medicine balls, weight machines, free weights
· Order of exercise: Complex exercises (e.g., plyometric, squat, lunge, bench press) prior to simple exercises (e.g., biceps curl, triceps extension, plank, abdominal), large muscle groups (e.g., hamstrings, quads, back, chest) prior to small muscle groups (e.g., biceps, triceps), multi-joint exercises (e.g., squats, lunges, step ups, bench press, push ups, shoulder press) before single joint exercises (e.g., prone leg curl, seated leg extension, calf raise, biceps curl, triceps extension).
· Cool down: 5-10 minutes
Youth starting a resistance training program when they can comply with coaching instructions has positive physical and psychological well-being. Despite previous misconceptions that starting a resistance training program at an early age is unsafe and hinders growth development, more evidence-based research have highlighted resistance training in youth necessary during growth development and the potential to reduce sports-related injuries. Most importantly resistance training may enhance confidence and develop motor skills, thus leading to lifelong engagement in physical activities.
1. Faigenbaum AD, Kraemer WJ, Blimkie JR, Jeffreys I, Micheli LJ, Nitka M, Rowland T. Youth resistance training: Updated position statement paper from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. J Strength Cond Res 23 (supplement 5): S60-S79, 2009.
2. Faigenbaum AD, Zaichkowsky LD, Westcott WL, Micheli LJ, Fehlandt AF. The effects of a twice-a-week strength training program on children. Pediatr Exerc Sci. 5:339-346, 1993.
3. Faigenbaum AD. Resistance training for children and adolescents: Are there health outcomes? Am J Lifestyle Med. 1: 190-200, 2007.