Workouts & Exercises

Youth Weight Training: Is it Okay? When Should They Start Lifting Weights?

Yes, you read that right, strength training for the youth, aka kids. Workout exercises for teenage girls as well as teenage boys offers numerous benefits to them and is a great idea for any kid who wants to feel better and look better. It can also set them on a lifetime path of training, which will lead to better fitness and health.

The main reason why I chose to delve into this topic is because, as a dad, it affects me personally. I’ve managed to get my 11-year-old son into weight training. And he’s been enjoying both the exercises themselves and their benefits so far!

I obviously had to do my share of research before talking to him, and that’s one of the reasons I know just a tiny bit more than the average person when it comes to this somewhat specific topic.

Lucky for you, dads and moms reading this, I’ve chosen to share both my knowledge and my personal experience with my own son, and I hope it helps you and your children a lot.

Quick Weight Lifting Vocab LessonGet the basics right before introducing your kids to weight lifting

Let’s set the record straight on a few things about weight lifting for youths before diving into the meatier bits.

Weight TrainingOne of the main goals of weight training is to ramp up and prepare your body with strength, power and agility for sports or future training

The main goal of weight training is to increase your performance in various sports by building power, strength, agility, and more. The best routines to achieve such results are widely debated by people.

Some prefer exercises that are based on dominant actions involved in sport, whereas others focus on building power and general strength as a base from which one’s performance can be improved.

For example, doing a bunch of one-legged squats everyday during a cycle spring training means that there is a focus on one leg at a time. On the other hand, a trainer who’s more into general preparation for power and strength might deem such an exercise unnecessary.

The term “weight training” in itself is widely used by most people as somewhat of a general term – an umbrella for a bunch of other things.

Strength Training

youth weight training

First off, try not to confuse strength training with weight lifting, bodybuilding, or powerlifting, the three of which can be harmful to kids, or potentially even damage some of your equipment, like ending up with bent barbells.

How? You might ask.

Well, it’s because these exercises can put too much strain on the muscles, tendons of a youngling, hurting things such as their bone growth. Such damage can be substantial if proper technique is completely sacrificed in favor of lifting more weight.

When it comes to kids, controlled movements and light resistance are truly the best. A special emphasis should be put on proper technique and safety. Your child can do a lot of strength training with his or her own body weight, lightweight dumbbells (I’d suggest the lowest setting on adjustable dumbbells) or cheap resistance tubing. They can also rely on free or machine weights, obviously.

Bodybuilding

bodybuilding for kids

Bodybuilding is both a sport and a recreational activity. Competitive bodybuilders can go as far as developing extremely muscular bodies – from the neck down – to fight (not literally) for recognition at competitions. Their bodies usually contain very low levels of fat, and they boast a highly muscular size and shape.

Bodybuilders rely on a number of different exercises, including machine weights like the sumo smith machine or free weights. They’re often the type of people who use such exercises the most. This is due to the fact that they need every bit of muscle humanely possible in order to enhance body features.

Bodybuilders don’t usually mix up with powerlifters or Olympic lifters. However, they usually are more familiar with the health and nutrition aspects of health training and fitness. That’s why taking at least 2 protein shakes a day and topping that with heavy meals is a mainstay in the bodybuilding community anyway.

In fact, the nutritional side of things plays a huge role in a bodybuilder’s training program mainly because they always seek to lower the percentage of body fat. On the other hand, they use exercise to increase metabolism and burn up any surplus fat in the body.

As you’d imagine, bodybuilding is no kid activity.

PowerliftingPower lifting training pretty much boils down to squats, bench press, and deadlifts

Powerlifters take part in competitions to see who can lift the heaviest weights in three exercises, which are the bench press, deadlift, and squat.

Powerlifters usually don’t cross over into Olympic lifting, a type of weightlifting. The techniques and culture behind these two can be quite different.

Is It Okay for My Kids to Weight Lift?To answer the question on whether weight lifting is god for your kids, you need to check several boxes

Now, let’s get to the big questions and see whether your kid is within the right age and form to get rolling.

At What Age Should They Start?The age is always a major factor in determining whether the time is right to introduce them to strenous exercise

Weightlifting is completely safe for your kids; it won’t stop their growth, and they sure as hell won’t kill themselves while doing it – it’s not like you are going to introduce them to insanely heavy equipment like the millennium dumbbell anyway. This means that you should get your eight-year-old on that strength program, right?

No.

According to Jordan Feigenbaum, a medical doctor and strength coach from Barbell Medicine, your kids would probably be fine doing a couple sets of compound exercises, such as deadlifts or squats, but that’s not the way to go in the long run.

They’re only ready when they’ve reached stage 4 on the Tanner Puberty Scale (2), which means they’re basically in full-blown puberty. Adult-like pubic hair in both males and females, almost fully developed breasts with females and larger testicles and penis for males. Additionally, males in Tanner Stage 4 will begin to develop some facial hair, and their voices will become deeper than usual.

The main reason why your child shouldn’t regularly start weight training before they reach Tanner Stage 4 is the simple fact that they don’t have the right hormone levels, specifically testosterone, to handle the progressive overload and recover from each session.

Children usually enter Tanner Stage 4 between ages 11 and 17, and it greatly differs from one each to another.

You might have a 12-year-old, a 6th grader who’s already in Stage 4 and is physically ready to start training.

You might also have a child who’s a late bloomer and won’t be physically ready until they’re a junior in high school.

My only advice is that you don’t rush it. Simply let your child’s physical maturity determine when it’s time for them to start a progressive training program.

Is There a Difference Between Boys and Girls?Whether what works for the boys will work for the girls is another hurdle in determining how to get your kids into weight lifting

Strength training for kids can be quite tricky, given the number of stigmas that surround it. One prime example is parents fearing that weights will make their daughter look ‘bulky’ or the idea that training is as beneficial for girls as it is for boys. Both are misconceptions.

A well-thought-out strength training program creates healthier girls, both physically and mentally. In addition to gaining all the physical benefits of strength training, these girls will witness the progress they make firsthand, which acts as an excellent confidence boost.

However, there are a few differences between boys and girls when it comes to strength and weight training. Both get similar benefits, but according to experts, a girl should stick to lifting weight less than her body weight if she hasn’t reached puberty yet. This can also be a concern with boys, and as I’ve mentioned before, they should only increase the amount being lifted once the form is mastered. Even for adults, you need to grasp the right form, and measure your fitness level before taking on more challenging workouts.

Will Weight Lifting Stunt My Kids’ Growth?

youth weight lifting

One of the most common myths about weight lifting is that it stunts one’s growth. Numerous studies were conducted on this matter, and none of them found that lifting weights can stunt or inhibit growth.

However, as is the case with almost any exercise program out there, if you do too much of it, physical problems can appear, regardless of one’s age or overall fitness levels. That’s right, being all buffed up isn’t an excuse to overtrain.

Once again, the key aspects when it comes to training as a child are close supervision, correct exercise form and technique, and lightweights, again, dumbbell-only workout could make for a great start, and still deliver great results. There is also the element of slow progression when it comes to adding more weight or doing more reps/sets.

What Are the Benefits of Strength Training for My Kids?As it turns out, weight lifting has a hoard of benefits for your kids

Research has proven that kids who train properly will have some of their fitness measures improved over time.

Still, why bother training your kids this way when they could just stick with having fun and playing sports?

Well, it is true that that lifting will take more time and effort, but the benefits of it for your children are definitely worth it. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Complex exercises that put more emphasis on numerous joints, muscle coordination, flexibility, etc.
  • Strength training improves many fitness measures that are crucial to sports such as basketball, soccer, and volleyball.
  • If done properly, these exercises can be super fun.
  • They can set your kids up for a lifetime journey of training and caring about their eating habits (such as the need to stop eating sugar), health and overall fitness.

Talk with a ProfessionalYou should always consider consulting your kid's physician before taking the dive into weight lifting training

Consult with your child doctor before starting anything. Always make sure that your child is properly supervised and is using safety equipment, and is abiding by the rules and regulations that are appropriate for his or her age.

Youth Weight Lifting – Getting Started

Having checked all the boxes, you can safely start introducing your kid to the world of weight lifting

Good form and lifting techniques are essential to this process, and without them, your child won’t really be able to do much. Once that’s dealt with, you’ll need to worry about weight selection, repetitions, sets, etc.

Let’s Take an ExampleTo put things into a clear perspective, here is an example of how to get started with youth weight lifting

Here’s an example, a walkthrough of an exercise using a dumbbell curl:

  • Fuel up: make sure that your children take in sufficient foods and fluids prior to the exercise, with a focus on carbohydrates.
  • Warm-up: This is essential to the whole exercise, and it can be in the form of a jog, run, mild stretches – actually, stretching is thought to make people taller among other benefits, etc.
  • Demonstrate to them the correct form and technique of whatever exercise they’re going to perform.
  • Pick the weights accordingly. Choose one that allows your child to perform at least 12 repetitions (preferably 15). By doing this, you’ll ensure that the weights are light enough not to place any unnecessary stress on the joints or developing cartilage and bone of your child.
  • Establish a fixed number of sets and exercises. My personal go-to with my son is two sets for each exercise and somewhere from around six exercises. Of course, this should depend on the age, fitness, and maturity of your child. You could consider increasing the weights gradually as your children get older or stronger.
  • Act as a supervisor. In other words, you should already understand a few basics about weight training upon which you’ll base your supervision of your children.
  • Cooldown: some stretching and calisthenics and mild weight training.
  • Create a weekly plan: for most children, two sessions a week is enough, three at most. The sessions should put set in a way where there is at least a day of rest in between each two to ensure recovery.
  • Make the workout entertaining: this can be done by including music, videos, etc. You don’t want your child to be completely bored while working out, as this might lead to some reckless behavior.

Training Program for KidsHaving a training program goes a long way in helping your kid get the swing of things

Below is a regular gym weight training workout that is compatible with adolescents in the 12 to 15-year-old age group.

Warm-upA good warm-up is essential not just for kids, but also for anyone looking to get in a good weight lifting workout

A warm-up should take 10 to 15 minutes, enough time to get the blood circulating into the muscles, getting them ready for the strain that they’ll be under during the workout.

The best way to start a warm-up is by performing some aerobic activity for 10 to 15 minutes, followed by some form lifts of the barbell with no weight load – you can get them a cheap barbell that’s small and light enough for their strength.  It’ll help the body of your child to familiarize yourself with the proper form of each exercise.

ExercisesWhat exactly are the best exercises for youth to help them make the most of their weight lifting workouts

All exercises should be performed in 2 sets, 10 repetitions:

  • Barbell squats
  • Barbell deadlift
  • Seated cable row
  • Cable pulldown
  • Cable triceps pushdown
  • Standard crunch
  • Incline dumbbell press
  • Dumbbell arm curl
  • Bent-over row using barbell or dumbbell

CooldownJust as the warm-up is essential for weight lifting, so is cool down moves to slow the body down

5 to 10 minutes cool down with light stretching.

ScheduleHaving a schedule helpps both you and your kid stay on track with their weight lifting workout and track progress

Two to three times a week, with each workout lasting around 30 minutes

ProgressionWhile adults can increase their weight consistently, kids should take it easy with weight increment

It is recommended for adults to increase their weight by no more than 10% each week, but children should increase it even slower. A good alternative adding weight is to have your child increase the number of sets or exercises per set.

Reps & Sets: How Much Can Kids Handle?Kids should obviously do less than adults when it comes to the number of sets and rep they should do

Kids obviously can’t and shouldn’t do the same workouts that full-grown adults do. There should be a focus on higher repetitions and fewer sets to create muscle memory. This will ensure that your kids develop a proper form. Only when they get a proper form can your children add weight and do more sets than usual.

A simple way to determine the appropriate average dumbbell weight or overall weight for your children is by testing increasing weights with ten reps. If they fail to keep up a proper form or can’t complete the reps, then you should lower the weight a bit.

In one study, researchers picked a number of boys between the ages of 10 and 12 and introduced them to Olympic-style lifting, as well as basic plyometric exercises. Another group of boys implemented more traditional exercises such as bench pressing and squats. Both groups were given fitness tests before and after the experimental exercises.

They were given small increases in weight for ten reps. Once they managed to master the 10 reps, they moved on to two sets of ten reps. After that, they were given a mixed set and rep scheme, which totaled to three sets. All these increases were slowly progressive and carefully planned and supervised.

The researchers found that the boys who did the lifting and plyometric exercises had significantly improved results in fitness tests such as horizontal jump, balance, 20-meter, etc. Their results were comparably superior to those of the boys who only did resistance training.

List of Exercises for Kids

exercises for youth weight training

Now that you have prepared your kid enough for the task ahead, it’s time to look at several other exercises that they can add to their weight lifting workouts.

Beginner Push-UpsPush-ups are a great way to get your kids started with their workout

Tell your children to:

  • Begin facedown, with their hands and knees on the floor
  • Place their hands directly under their shoulder
  • Extend their arms and pull their belly button up and raise their body
  • Slowly lower their body until their chest almost touches the ground
  • Repeat the process for as many times as they can

Wall Push-UpsWall push-ups help your kids master the art of push-ups in general

Wall push-ups are an effective way to teach your kids how to master push-ups in general. In order to properly perform wall push-ups, your kids need to:

  • Stand about a few feet away from a wall with their legs together
  • Place their hands on the wall
  • Lean forward to the point where their nose touches the wall then push back to starting position
  • Repeat this at least 20 times

Plank PositionPlanks are a great workout for both kids and adults alike

Tell your kids to:

  • Get on their hands and knees while keeping their arms extended and straight below their shoulders with their fingers pointing forward
  • Straighten their legs behind them and use their back and stomach muscles to lift their stomach off the floor until their body forms a straight line
  • Hold the plank position for at least 15 seconds – do note, young folks, especially beginners take planks and push-ups to be one and the same, at least most tend to muddle up one with the other, so make sure they are in the plank position.

Biceps CurlsThe bicep curl is yet another great move that will give your kid a good start to strength training

What you need: small sponge-like ball or balloon for each kid

Tell the kids to:

  • Stay in a standing position, with their right arm bent at a 90-degree angle then place a ball or balloon between their biceps and forearm
  • Close the forearm to hold the ball in place
  • Tightly squeeze the arm 10 times, rest, then switch to their left arm.

Triceps Push-upsThis workout is rather easy and all you need is a chair, yet they prove to be quite effective

What you need: a chair for each kid

Tell the children to:

  • Sit on the edge of the chair with their legs hip-distance apart
  • Place their palms down on the edge of the chair at their sides, and have their fingertips curl underneath so that they point toward their bottom. You can also do this workout yourself if your triceps are not growing.
  • Push down with their arms and lift their bottom an inch of the chair, trying to hold this position for 5 seconds
  • Sit back down again and repeat this for 5-10 times.

Throwing a Ghost BallThis moves also comes with great benefits but doesn't take much to pull it off

Tell your kids to:

  • Pretend that they’re throwing a baseball by going through the entire moving process several times
  • Switch from one arm to another
  • Repeat the movement several times with each arm

Punching ArmsFor the punching arms, the kid should punch an imaginary hanging bag to hone their punching skills

Tell your children to:

  • Imagine a standing punching bag or a heavy bag in front of them
  • Punch fast and slow from different angles, using both arms
  • Repeat this exercise several times

BoxingThis move helps the kid master the art of boxing, the stand and evading punches

Tell the children to:

  • Stand with their feet apart
  • Bend their arms at elbow-level, brining them toward their own body and keeping their fists at the level of their chin
  • Slowly bend their upper body down to the right as if they’re avoiding a punch.
  • Return to center and switch to the left side and repeat 20 times

**SideNote: If your kid is interested in boxing, you can also get them a pair of amateur boxing gloves and boxing shoes to make the practice feel as real as it can get, these will also com in handy for their boxing training.

Overhead ReachThe overhead reach is a great stretching workout for kids

Tell your children to:

  • Bring both their arms over their head in a standing position
  • Pretend that they’re climbing up a rope by leaning slightly to the right while trying to stretch their body to the maximum
  • Lower their left hand until it’s at shoulder level
  • Return to the initial position, lean to the opposite side, and repeat.

Related Readings:

Sources:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/stages-of-puberty
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/strength-training/art-20047758
  3. https://www.issaonline.com/blog/index.cfm/kids-and-strength-training-when-can-they-start

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