Team sports help children and teenagers in so many ways. Young athletes get regular exercise. They also learn self-control and how to work on a team. But sports may make parents and children feel pressure to be more competitive.
This is why child athletes are being pushed to add strength training to their workouts. Before a child begins strength training, parents should know all the benefits and risks.
“Strength training offers young athletes a lot of benefits, but it must be done correctly and safely,” says Jeffrey Nepple, MD, Washington University pediatric orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Growing children should not lift weights with the goal of lifting as much as they can. It’s safer for them to start with lighter weights and do many repetitions of an exercise.”
There have been some concerns that strength training is not good for children who have not entered puberty. Studies have suggested that weight training might harm a child’s growth, lead to injuries or not increase muscle strength. But Dr. Nepple says parents should not worry. Lifting weights can help kids as young as 7 years old.
“Strength training can be a wonderful part of a sports program,” Dr. Nepple says. “It can improve performance and help reduce the chance of an injury, but children should want to do this and know that they must follow directions.”
Dr. Nepple offers children and parents some do’s and don’ts for strength training:
- Learn a strength exercise correctly before adding weight.
- Perform low weight, high repetition sets.
- Take part in programs that mix weight lifting with other activities, such as running and swimming.
- Warm-up and cool down with stretching to stay flexible.
- Make sure kids are watched and taught by a trained professional, such as a certified physical therapist or athletic trainer.
- Allow children younger than 7 years old to lift weights.
- Force young athletes to lift weights if they don’t want to.
- Let children strength train if they can’t understand or follow the rules.
- Let children of any age focus on “power lifting.”
“I cannot stress enough the importance of having a trained professional on hand,” Dr. Nepple says. “If young athletes are doing these exercises the right way, they get the most benefits, avoid injury and build habits for lifelong health and fitness.”