What Age Should Athletes Start Lifting Weights?

Posted on: January 31st, 2013 by Laura No Comments

weightsWhen my son would go to the gym with me when he was 12-14, the receptionist would put a green band around is wrist. That  let trainers know he shouldn’t be lifting free weights.

I didn’t understand for some time, until I started seeing kids who appeared to have no training throwing big heavy weights around. All I was thinking was… man, they are going to hurt themselves. I’ve always been VERY careful about teaching my son the proper technique to avoid injury. But as I investigated further I realize there are several schools of thought on what age an athlete should start lifting.

I’ve taken what Nick’s coaches have told me and read several articles. This is my best take on it… a lot of the advice coming from Livestrong.com.

It’s important to remember, lifting weights too early can put too much strain on young muscles, tendons and areas of cartilage that haven’t yet turned to bone (growth plates) — especially when proper technique is sacrificed in favor of lifting larger amounts of weight. But according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), lifting weights with a sound technique can strengthen ligaments and tendons, and improve bone density. Under proper supervision, lifting weights can begin as young as age 9, according to Mayo Clinic.

Muscle fibers are broken down during weight training sessions. Strength and muscle mass is actually gained between the rest and recovery stage that occurs after your workout. Many professionals have expressed concerns that weight lifting at a young age can damage growth plates and stunt the physical development of youths. Growth plates are areas of growing tissue found along the bones of youngsters. According to the the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is no evidence that a strength training program can hinder linear growth in youths. In actuality, strength training can prevent children from suffering injuries and accelerate their recovery time if they do get hurt.

The body of a young adolescent has not entirely matured. Therefore, to establish a safe weight-lifting regimen for youths, emphasize light weights with high repetitions. Dr. Wayne Yankus is a renowned pediatrician based in Midland Park, NJ. Dr. Yankus states that a pre-pubertal male child can lift weights of 3 to 5 pounds or less with approximately 10 repetitions. However, at such a young age, he urges children to avoid benching, squatting or working on a nautilus fitness station. Lifting light weights with high repetitions will tone, strengthen and enhance the overall physical performance of youths.

AGES 9-12
The American Academy of Pediatrics supports strength training for kids. Children between the ages of 9 and 12 should focus their efforts on resistance bands, light free weights and body weight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups and dips.

Note: Nick would concentrate on sit-ups and pull-ups at this age. We also did a lot of band work.

AGES 13-14
At the age of 13 or 14, adolescents can begin to devise a more stringent and demanding workout routine. However, youths should still avoid lifting heavy weights. Lifting light weights with high repetitions will prove to be a secure and beneficial method of strength training.

Note: I started Nick on light weights and emphasized techniques. It is so ingrained in his head now that it drives him crazy when he is in high school class and they don’t teach proper technique.

AGES 15-16

Once children become 15 or 16, they can start participating in more hardened forms of exercises like bench presses, overhead military presses and squats. However, just because youths are now old enough to lift heavier weights, they should not hoist anything without correct fundamentals and form. Lifting weights is dangerous and, if children engage in strength training without taking precautions, they are liable to suffer serious injuries.


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