When should your child start weight training?

By Janis Meredith | Posted 9/8/2015

Weight training – when taught properly and age-appropriately – can help prevent injuries in young athletes. Getting stronger and quicker benefit an athlete in any sport, not just during football season.

According to a study at the University of Florida report that examined football injuries at more than a dozen high schools, coaches at that level who want to keep players in the game should keep their players in the weight room.

MaryBeth Horodyski, an assistant professor with Florida’s department of exercise and sports sciences, cites a three-year study of athlete injuries showing that “players who follow a controlled strength-training program reduce their chances of suffering from severe injuries.”

“Seventy-eight percent of severe injuries to the upper body struck non-lifting athletes or those students who were not in a controlled weight-lifting program,” Horodyski said. “And non-lifting athletes accounted for 64 percent of those with severe injuries to the lower body.

“The take-home message for coaches is they need to implement a well-structured strength-training program for their players throughout the entire season. It won’t cut down on the total number of injuries, but time loss goes down drastically if the injuries are not severe.”

But what about before high school? When is it safe for a child to get in the weight room?

USA Football recommends athletes who have not yet reached high school use body weight and body weight resistance to build muscles.

And in the process of research and picking my husband’s coaching brain, I learned some things.

First, it’s important to distinguish between weight lifting and strength training. Weight lifting emphasizes either maximizing the number of lifts or amount of weight to build strength. Strength training uses low resistance and repetition to build strength and conditioning.

In general, stick to these guidelines:

  • Children as young as 7 or 8 years old can do strength-training activities if they want. Exercises should be fun and include exercises for the total body using only body weight as resistance: jumping jacks, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, squats and lunges. Encourage simple games that involve running with starts, stops, relays, jumping, skipping and throwing.
  • By age 9 or 10, most children are physically ready to begin training with resistance bands. Keep the exercises simple and monitor how the child tolerates the stresses of added resistance.
  • Beginning any type of weight training before a body is ready puts too much strain on young muscles, tendons and growth plates. By 13, a child’s nervous system and muscles typically begins to develop into maturity.
  • At age 14 or 15, add sport specific exercises and increase the volume of training. This is also when most athletes are ready for entry-level weight programs but only if they have gained a basic level of training experience. Start with higher volume/lower intensity work and gradually build to lower volume/higher intensity work.

WATCH: See all of USA Football’s strength and conditioning videos for pre-high school athletes

No matter what age your child starts, the first year should be spent learning correct technique and developing a general fitness base.

  • Strength training many advantages, including:
  • Increasing muscle strength and endurance
  • Protecting a child’s muscles and joints from injury
  • Improving performance in nearly any sport

Even if your child isn’t into sports, strength training can still:

  • Strengthen bones
  • Promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Boost metabolism
  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Improve self-esteem

It’s always a good idea to get advice for any regimen from a coach or trainer who can guide your young athlete into a safe and age-appropriate workout.

SEE ALSO: USA Football works with Volt Athletics to build individualized weight and strength training regimens for all U.S. National Team players

Janis B. Meredith, sports mom and coach's wife, writes a sports parenting blog called JBM Thinks. She authored the Sports Parenting Survival Guide Series and has a podcasting series for sports parents. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.