I remember being in my 5th and 6th grade school gym class doing pull ups and wondering why I can pull up my own weight (a full 65 lbs.) but was told it would be too dangerous to weight train on machines, even if I was just pulling 15, 25, or 30 lbs. Why does it make sense for a young athlete to push up their own weight but unable to utilize 5 lb. hand weights? Wouldn’t it also make it easier for us to help mom unload the groceries from the car if we started weight training at an earlier age?
So, is it a myth that “strength training” and allowing young athletes to “hit the gym” will stunt their growth or damage their bones, muscles, or tissues? Or can appropriate weight lifting at a young age mean helping athletes understand how to safely strength train and condition their bodies the same way adult athletes do?
Of course, no one would suggest an 8-year-old soccer player bench 100+ lbs., or a 10-year-old field hockey player squat 200+ lbs., but they might suggest these athletes, with the right attitude, start lifting hand weights or squatting a lighter bar with appropriate supervision. As with anything physical, safety is key! Making sure young athletes are being properly directed at the gym can help ensure they’re lifting a suitable amount weight and using correct form so their body and muscles can move safely.
So, how young is too young to begin weight training? If your little athlete has great form already when kicking a soccer ball, hitting a field hockey ball, running, and doing push-ups and sit-ups, it might be time to talk to their coach or search for a qualified athletic trainer. The most common age that athletes seem to be ready to “hit the gym” is around 8 years old! This may be contrary to popular beliefs of waiting until their bones, muscles, and bodies are fully developed after hitting puberty.
Just as we suggest young athletes and tots stick to “strength training” by increasing the number of pushups, sit ups, and lunges they do, where they utilize just their own body weight, once we add physical weights to the equation it’s important for young athletes to keep this additional weight light and increase reps once they hit their plateau. This not only strengthens the body but lets athletes focus on and strengthening their form, gets them comfortable around weights, and makes strength training and weight lifting overall safer for them in the future.
Does your community gym have fitness classes for children or teens? Signing up for these fitness classes could be a great alternative to a personal trainer to ensure your athlete is lifting correctly and safely. More importantly, this could ensure their mindset is in the right place and their attitude about weight training is a positive one starting at a young age. Allowing child athletes to train with their peers in such an environment can make all the difference on how they view “hitting the gym” as teenagers and adults.