Many parents and physical education teachers have traditionally shied away from strength training with their children or students, and for good reason. Until recently, the research just hadn’t been done to support the effectiveness and, more importantly, the safety of children training with weights. But now there is sufficient research to suggest that strength training is a suitable — and safe — option for most youths.
Correcting the misconceptions
There are a number of common myths about youth strength training that continue to cause concern among parents and educators. Two of the most common misconceptions are that strength training may stunt growth of children and that children should not lift weights until they are 12 years old. There is simply no evidence to support either of these statements.
In fact, all of the major fitness and medical organizations in the U.S. recommend strength training for youths, assuming that basic guidelines are adhered to and that appropriate leadership is present. And about the question of age, children can begin to train weights as soon as they are able to accept and follow directions — usually around the age of 7 or 8.
The benefits of youth strength training are similar to those for adults, though the importance of getting an early start cannot be overemphasized — the most important benefit of any youth fitness program is an improved attitude toward lifelong activity. Improvements in muscular fitness, bone mineral density, body composition, motor fitness performance and injury resistance should be compelling evidence for all parents, though children will likely focus on things like enhanced sports performance and the social aspects of exercise.
In fact, children don’t usually have the ability to comprehend long-term concepts until the ages of 11 to 14, so abstract ideas like healthy bones and disease prevention will do little to motivate success. Fun is the No. 1 motivator in almost every aspect of a child’s life, so always make sure everyone is having fun.