The other day, my 14-year-old son asked me if he was old enough to lift weights.
Despite what I learned while earning my physical education degree more than three decades ago, I assumed that like a lot of expert opinions from back in the day, this subject’s answer might have changed.
I did what I couldn’t do three decades ago and Googled it. This is what I found on the Mayo Clinic’s website:
“During childhood, kids improve their body awareness, control and balance through active play. As early as age 7 or 8, however, strength training can become a valuable part of an overall fitness plan – as long as the child is mature enough to follow directions and able to practice proper technique and form.”
Note that in this explanation there was no mention of what types of strength training activities should be used. This means that I or anyone else should not run out and purchase a bench, plates and bars. Instead, it’s better to take a common-sense approach and put together a plan.
There are many ways to improve your strength that have nothing to do with pressing or curling. Pullups, planks and pushups are safe and can build upper-body and core strength, just like weight-free squats can do for legs. None of those require equipment or a spotter and the risk of injury is very low.
However, when you and your child feel that it’s time to start lifting weights, I suggest consulting professionals, starting with your family doctor and then if given the OK, talking to a certified trainer who has experience working with the age group your child falls into.
Depending on what the trainer tells you will determine the next step. They might suggest using machine weights to reduce the risk of injury and that might require you to join a gym or other facility that has those pieces of equipment if you don’t want to make that expensive purchase.
If free weights are OK, that’s a more affordable option if you have space. However, that also now requires more stringent safety measures, in particular a spotter for many of the free-weight exercises.
In either situation, once your child starts their workout routine, it’s important to monitor how often and how many pounds and repetitions they are doing. The theory that “more and heavier is better” might sound impressive at the lunch table talking among friends, but that approach is often the cause of unnecessary injuries.
Just like starting a new sport, the best plan is a well-thought-out one.
Jon Buzby has been involved in and writing about youth sports for the past 30 years with perspectives as a parent, coach and board member. Jon is an award-winning writer and his latest book, “Coaching Kids Made Easier,” is available on Amazon. Send comments or future blog topics you'd like to see to JonBuzby@hotmail.com and follow him @YouthSportsBuzz on Twitter.
USA Football's model for youth football is designed to make the game safer by reducing contact and by teaching the game based on an athlete's age, the skill they are learning and game type.