Is my kid old enough to lift weights? Does lifting weights stunt a child's growth? If so, does that cause long term injuries or other potential issues?
These are common questions I get asked as an Exercise Physiologist which suggests there are still many misconceptions around today that people have towards exercise being detrimental to a child's health. So let's take a look at some of these misunderstandings and explore what type of exercise is right for kids!
ISN'T LIFTING WEIGHTS BAD FOR KIDS?
Let's get this one out of the way first!
For years, and still to this day, many people mistakenly believe that if a child commences weight training at a young age it will "stunt their growth". Firstly, there has never been a study to ever prove that weight training as an adolescent will stunt or inhibit growth. However, as with any exercise program, if you do too much too soon (known as overload), physical problems can result regardless of whether you're an adolescent or an adult.
It is likely that a kid has previously either jumped off part of a playground or from a tree, thrown themselves from a trampoline or even something else that requires an even more dangerous landing. Let me point out the fact that the forces placed on the human body when performing a simple landing, like these examples is MUCH higher than that of a loaded squat for example. Therefore, they are placing their joints under a lot more load and stress than they would in the weight room.
SO WHERE SHOULD CHILDREN BEGIN?
Before jumping straight into weight training, it is important that children, or anyone starting out, are able to master the basic movement patterns necessary in everyday life such as squat, hip hinge, lunge etc. Ensuring children understand and perform correct technique through various movement patterns, will safeguard them to prevent associated injuries due to incorrect technique when progressing to exercises using weights.
A good place to begin is through body weighted exercises. Once they are able to complete movement patterns such as a squat, lunge, hip hinge etc., then I would be confident to introduce them to external weights.
SO WHAT WEIGHT/RESISTENCE PROGRAMS SHOULD THEY DO?
The key is to start gradually.
Using an external weight, such as a dumbbell, barbell, kettle bell etc. provides extra resistance that the body has to complete a movement against, which ultimately requires an increase in internal force production by muscles and tendons. With that being said, the safe place to start for a child or novice lifter is with lighter weights. I mentioned the term, overloading' earlier; to elaborate on this, if a child or any lifter begins or progresses to a weight too heavy too soon, they are essentially trying to lift a weight that requires too greater force production, therefore placing too greater stress on muscles and tendons, leading to associated injuries in the form of tendinopathies, stress fractures etc.
With that said, it is not unsafe to progress weights at all. Some of the ways to notice if a weight is too heavy is if their technique in no longer controlled throughout a set, they are unable to finish a set at a desired weight, the weight causes discomfort in particular joints etc. Contrastingly, an individual may increase weight when they are finding the exercise easy, pulling up well from sessions and technique is consistent throughout all sets.
It is important to note that all individuals will progress at different rates, due to a variety of factors including age, gender, frequency of sessions and other genetic factors. An exercise professional will be able to help with load/weight management and will ensure an exercise program will provide safe progression for your child.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
So we started with the question of, should kids lift weights?' It's a resounding yes from me!
When implemented correctly, appropriate weight training for anyone can improve coordination, build strength and tissue resilience, enhance mental health and self-esteem, boost energy levels, improve sports performance and reduce associated injury risk. Moreover, exercise in general can set children up for a lifetime of health success.
To help your child get started, book them in for an appointment with one of our Exercise Physiologists. Call us on 9783 9990 or book online.