At what age can a child safely begin lifting weights?
"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.