Should kids lift weights? Given that it can improve health, boost function, and stave off injury, YES. Although It needs to be done properly, of course.

 

I first started lifting weights when I was 16.

My footy coach told me that I needed to get a bit ‘stronger over the ball‘. Fortunately, my dad had an old weights set sitting in the shed, so I put to and two together and decided that it was time to lift some weights.

Beast mode engaged (or at least, that’s what I thought was happening?).

See, while I thought it was a good idea, I literally had no idea what I was doing (enter google) — so I found a couple of exercises that looked good, and off I went.

I’m pretty sure for the next 2 years I did three exercises fairly consistently.

  • Bench press
  • Bicep curls
  • Chin ups

Seriously, what more do you need…

I tried a few lower body exercises here and there, but at the time thought running was more than enough for my legs… and as a result, they left my gym program pretty quickly.

While I admit that my footy performance didn’t improve a lot, I thought I looked pretty good, so that was a positive.

In hindsight it was probably this which put me on my chosen career path (not all that awe-inspiring, now that I think about it…)

But here’s the funny thing.

Even at the age of 16, my mum still held some huge reservations about me lifting weights. She was adamant that it was going to damage my growth plates, make me shorter, and get me injured.

In short, she had many of the same misconceptions that are still around today.

Interestingly, knowing what I do now, I actually wish I had started earlier.

I also wish I had done it properly — but more on that later.

 

Kids and Formalized Exercise

There are some pretty obvious benefits that come with getting your kids exercising young.

I mean, they get fitter, they get stronger, they are less likely to become overweight and obese, and they will have better mental health. More importantly, if your kids exercise regularly as a child, then they are going to exercise more as an adult.

This means that exercising during childhood will literally set them up for a lifetime of success.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be pushed into formalized exercise at a young age.

 

Kids and Sport

While there is certainly merit in having them actively participate in a sport (it is a very easy way to introduce physical activity), this shouldn’t be their only focus.

In fact, if you get your kid to specialize in a single sport too early, then it will be to their detriment. They are more likely to get injured, they only become good at sport specific tasks (rather than important fundamental movements), and they will actually be less likely to make it to the elite level.

Conversely, if your child plays a number of different sports on a yearly basis, then the opposite is true.

They develop a broad base of motor skill and coordination, and they become more robust and resilient.

In turn, they build a solid foundation that will set them up for athletic success as an adult.

So even if you think your kid is the next Ash Barty, there is still no point in making them focus entirely on tennis — because I can assure you it will do more harm than good.

To add to this, a large part of your kids exercise routine should be made up of active play.

You know, climbing up things, playing games, and jumping off stuff?

Yep, all that fun stuff that involves moving your body simply for the sake of moving your body.

It is these sorts of activities that further develop those super important motor skills that I discussed earlier.

It is also these sorts of activities that help foster a true enjoyment for exercise.

 

When Should Kids Lift Weights?

Now we move onto the crux of the discussion — when should kids start lifting weights?

I have already outlined that your kids should be given the opportunity to try a number of different sports. Within this, I have also discussed the importance of play.

In my mind, this is imperative up until the age of about 10 years old. After which there is definitely some merit in moving them into more formalized training.

And yes, I am talking about lifting weights — but maybe not in the way that you think.

See, performing traditional strength exercises (starting with body weight and progressing slowly) is the perfect way to develop a base of good motor control and coordination.  This is important, because it lays the foundation that underpins their ability to perform more complex movement tasks.

Things like jumping, sprinting, bounding, and landing, are all predetermined by your ability to squat, lunge, and hip hinge well.

In this manner, formalized weight training can really set your child up for success in any future athletic endeavors.

Moreover, if they do get the opportunity to play sport at a higher level of competition, these movements will make up the bulk of their gym training. This means that they will be a step ahead of anyone who hasn’t performed these movements in a gym environment before.

In short, this results in more success!

Finally, the earlier your that your children are exposed to these basic fundamental gym-based movements, the more competent they are going to be. This means that if they do decide to enter a gym in their teenage years (AKA me circa 2008, V-neck T-shirt and all), they are actually going to have some idea of what they are doing.

This means less stupidity, and a reduced risk of injury.

 

How Should Kids Lift Weights?

I have outlined when kids should lift weights. Now we really need to delve into how kids should lift weights.

And it all starts gradually.

In my mind, they first need to become competent at performing those key fundamental movement tasks I mentioned above. This means that all their programming should revolve around squatting, lunging, pressing, rowing, and hip hinging. It should also teach them to brace their trunk and spine against external forces.

Simple stuff really (in fact, your program should look a whole lot like this too).

They should start training these exercises (and their many variations) using their body weight as the main form of resistance. This gives them the opportunity to develop the motor control required to perform these movements under load in the future.

Once you feel comfortable with their ability to perform these movements with control, then you can add some load.

But don’t be moronic about it.

Start slowly.

This means finding exercise variations that they can do well, and adding light loads slowly. You want them performing 10-12 repetitions with optimal technique. Moreover, you want to make sure that they finish every set with 2-3 reps in the bank — this way they are not training to failure.

Additionally, you want it to be fun.

This might mean incorporating game based play into your training sessions. It might involve some reactive agility tasks, some jumping and landing, or even some coordination activities.

It might simply mean that you spend a bit more time talking crap while they exercise — just make it fun.

And always  remember that this introduction to formal exercise provides the chance to develop lifelong exercise habits. As a result, the more enjoyable your kids find exercising now, the more likely they will enjoy it in the future too.

 

 

What about as they get older?

Finally, if your kids are transitioning into adolescence, then there is certainly merit in spending more time working with moderately heavy loads.

I mean, their training should still be built around the same movement patterns I have already outlined, but there is going to be some room to push it a little.

It is this that promotes the development of strength and lean tissue — both of which can improve sport performance, enhance health, reduce injury risk, and improve function.

However, there is an obvious caveat here.

If they have never stepped foot in a gym before, then regress them back to simple body weight exercises, and build from there.

Hopefully the following table outlines what I have been talking about reasonably well!

(Although if you want a bit more info, you can also check out another great article here)

AgeFocusExercises
10-12 years
  • Developing motor control and coordination through the performance of fundamental exercises
  • Predominantly sticking to body weight loading
  • Staying 2-3 reps short of failure every set
  • Make it fun
  • Playing a myriad of different sports each year
  • Body weight squats and lunges, hip hinges, push ups, inverted rows pull ups, planks, and side planks
  • Jumping, landing, sprinting, crawling and climbing
13 – 15 years
  • Enhancing strength and coordination through the use of fundamental exercises
  • The addition of lighter loads and more demanding exercises (free weights)
  • Staying 2-3 reps short of failure every set
  • Playing 2 sports per year, with a period of focus on keeping active and maintaining a good base of general fitness
  • Goblet squats, front squats, split squats, lunges, dumbbell presses, push ups, dumbbell rows, cable rotations, planks, and deadlift variations
  • Jumping, landing, sprinting, crawling, and bounding
16 – 18 years
  • Transition into heavier loading to promote strength and muscular development
  • Still adhere to fundamental movement patterns, and stay 1-2 reps shy of failure every set
  • 1-2 sports per year, with time dedicated to developing strength and aerobic fitness prior to each season
  • Barbell squats, split squats, lunges, deadlifts, presses, and rows
  • The maintenance of body weight movements such as push ups and pull ups
  • Rapid change of directions, sprints, bounds, and explosive jumps

 

But Kids Only Need Play!

Before I finish up, I wanted to address the elephant in the room.

A lot of people of think that kids do not need any form of formalized exercise. That as long as they play, then they will be fine.

And once upon a time, they may have been right — but now?

Not so much…

See, kids no longer play — or at least, not in the way that they used to.

I mean, they play fortnight? They watch YouTube videos? They be playing Instagram?

But, in modern day, they don’t really play how they need too. And i think this comes down to the fact that they are no longer given the opportunity to use their bodies through exploration and movement.

And before you tell me that they get enough exercise at school, remember that to simply maintain health, children need a minimum of one hour of intense exercise per day.

I repeat — at the bare minimum.

So I would argue that kids actually need formalized exercise more than ever.

I would state that because they no longer have the opportunity to move and develop appropriately, we need to give them the opportunity.

Which is exactly where weight training enters the discussion.

 

But Isn’t Lifting Weights Bad for Kids?

Many people (my mum included…) are adamant that commencing weight training at a young age will somehow be detrimental to their health.

You know, because the load will be stunting their growth and all that….

Now, the first thing I will point out is that the forces placed on the human body when performing a simple landing are MUCH higher than those seen when performing a loaded squat. So if your kids are playing on playgrounds, jumping out of trees, and throwing themselves from trampolines, they are going to be placing their joints under heaps more load than they would in the weight room.

Soooo, yeah — its not going to damage their growth plates

Secondly, weight training has actually been shown to be extremely safe for kids — especially when supervised by someone who knows what they are doing!

So, as long as they are not being stupid, their risk of an injury occurring in the weight room is next to nothing. Moreover, when we consider that lifting weights can actually prevent other sport injuries from occurring, I would say this is a moot point.

In short, no, weight training is not bad for kids.

 

Take Home Message

Should kids lift weights?  I would give this a resounding yes!

When implemented correctly, weight training can improve coordination, build strength and resilience, enhance mental health and self-esteem, boost sport performance, and reduce injury risk. Moreover, it can set them up for a lifetime of health success.

So what are you waiting for?

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