Youth Strength Training

At what age can a child safely begin lifting weights?

Youth Strength Training "This is the most frequently asked question I encounter when speaking on resistance training," says Olympic Coach Harvey Newton. “Over the years scientific research has closely scrutinized this topic and now nearly all professional organizations are on the same page: children can engage in resistance training with no real lower age limit applied. BUT, certain conditions must exist to make youth strength training safe and effective."

"There are several key methodological points that need to be in place.” Coach Newton frequently recommends Strength Training for Young Athletes (Human Kinetics) by William Kraemer, PhD and Steven Fleck, PhD. “Drs. Kraemer and Fleck consistently produce the most up-to-date research findings on youth training. Their writings on this subject are clear and to the point," says Newton.

"Unfortunately we still find too many people, particularly parents, thinking that their little Johnny or Janie can set the world on fire by applying advanced methods too quickly," says Newton. He continues, "I was one of three referees at the 1982 Junior World Weightlifting Championships when 14-year old ‘Pocket Hercules’ Naim Suleymanuglu attempted his first senior (20+ years) world record. Suleymanuglu was not your typical 14-year old. Nor is his short stature a result of early specialization in weightlifting, a thought sometimes mentioned by the lay public. Suleymanuglu had a very unique genetic code that destined him to be one of the finest weightlifters ever. Even as a teenager, Naim was referred to by the Bulgarians (his original team) as ‘the little man.’ We cannot expect this type of performance from just any young athlete."

Prepubescent and teenaged children who follow sensible resistance training programs can expect to improve in many areas:

  • greater strength
  • improved flexibility
  • greater self-esteem
  • injury prevention

But generally speaking, young athletes engaged in scientifically sound resistance training should not expect to realize any great amount of hypertrophy, or muscular growth. This just isn’t going to happen to many youngsters. Muscular growth is more evidenced by young males around the age of puberty.

So the answer to the question really is that youngsters can begin training at any age. But, exercise selection and program design must be tailored to young athletes. Coach Newton regularly works with coaches, parents, and athletes to introduce sensible weight training aimed at improving a young athlete’s performance in sport. For further information, please contact Olympic Coach Harvey Newton.

"Coach Newton:

When my daughter, Leslie, began in high school weightlifting, I wanted to obtain for her expert instruction so that she could learn the fundamentals of the clean and jerk lift. I attended a state weightlifting meet, and observed you coaching the two most phenomenal lifters in the meet.

It was obvious that their high school coaches stepped aside, and permitted you to handle the coaching of their athletes. After witnessing your lifters best all other lifters by wide margins, I went down to the floor to meet you. I was very pleased that you were willing to take on another athlete, and your assistance with Leslie has been very instrumental in her success and love for the sport of weightlifting.

During the summer after we met, I took a trip to York, Pennsylvania. We toured the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame. Leslie was astonished to see your picture as the coach of the Olympic Team.

I have attended every state high school weightlifting meet for the past several years. Not unexpectedly, the best lifters in the clean and jerk are routinely coached by you. In the sectional meet last year, Leslie was called for push-pressing her first two lifts, and became frustrated. You took the time from the lifters you were coaching to speak to her. Her third lift was successful. Leslie felt honored that you would assist her in this manner.

I hope to keep in touch with you and have you assist Leslie in the years to come.”

Steven R. Kutner, Esquire

"Hi Mr. Newton: My son, Nick, has been doing the wrestling workout in your book, Explosive Lifting for Sports since the end of last wrestling season. Great workout! He has gotten so strong and is now lifting so much weight I thought I should ask, how much is too much? He's 16 and he is doing his last set of squats with 470lbs without a problem. He does his last sets of power cleans with 225 and can probably increase it. When should he stop increasing the weight?

Thanks for your help. Love the book. I'll give you credit when Nick wins the States this year!"

Joe Parisi