Just as a lot of women are afraid weightlifting will make them bulky, adults often fear that strength training is unsafe for kids. As a parent, I understand these reservations, but I also think it’s important to set the record straight. The truth is, strength training is safe and good for kids – when it’s done the right way.
Will Lifting Weights Stunt Growth?
This isn’t a controversial claim. The American Academy of Pediatrics even recommends strength training for kids ages eight and up. But still, the confusion remains, and one of the most common concerns I hear about is stunted growth. Coach Mike Tromello addressed this concern in his article, It Will NOT Stunt Growth: Strength Programming for the Adolescent Athlete. Mike explains the evidence regarding the effects of strength training on growth, with the following conclusion :
If an athlete is taught how to do these movements correctly, through a proper strength and conditioning program, they will have no choice but to activate these factors in their bodies therefore assisting in their growth and overall physical development. These ideas definitely challenge the whole “stunt your growth” concept.
Benefits of Strength Training During Youth
Not only is strength training safe for kids when done properly, but it also has numerous benefits. As outlined in Doug Dupont‘s article, Fit Kids Are Healthier and Happier, research suggests kids who are stronger and more conditioned perform better in school and are less likely to engage in unhealthy activities.
Strength training has also been linked to improved athletic performance. In his article, Kids Who Lift Weights Are Better at Soccer, coach Jeff Barnett described one study that observed youth soccer players for 26 weeks. In the end, the soccer players who added a strength training program performed at a higher level than those who simply practiced soccer. And as Jeff pointed out, strength training is probably a lot safer than soccer practice:
I don’t want to dissuade you from involving your child in sports. I want to show you that strength training is much safer than youth soccer, the darling activity for the kids of thirty-something moms everywhere. So why wouldn’t you want your child to be involved in strength training?
And let’s not forget what may be the most important motivating factor for kids (and adults): strength training is fun. In my article, 5 Reasons Every Kid Should Grow a Little Muscle, I interviewed my daughter (pictured below), who was four years old at the time, and asked her why she wanted to be strong. Although fighting bad guys and saving little people were strong reasons to lift weights, by far the biggest motivator was the fun factor.
How to Lift Safely
Of course, all this doesn’t mean kids can train just like adults. Children do have particular needs when it comes to strength training. In her article, Growing Bones and CrossFit Kids: The Biology Every Kids Coach Should Know, coach Amber Larsen outlined a few of these considerations and provided tips for progressing strength training with children, emphasizing that coaches need to keep specific ages and stages in mind when coaching kids:
One thing I think important for CrossFit Kids instructors to consider is splitting a class into children and adolescents. If the class is large enough, it’s beneficial to put kids of like mind and body together. A teenager may not feel comfortable working with children several years younger and vice versa. So it may be worth your time to teach one class for elementary ages, and another class geared towards preteens and teenagers. It’s also important to understand that structurally (meaning in regards to the bones) a teenager will be different from a child.
Amber also recommends starting with bodyweight exercises to build a good foundation for load-bearing exercises. Once children have mastered basic movements like burpees, push ups, pull ups, they are ready to progress to basic weight training, using multi-joint, compound exercises to start out, and emphasize form rather than the size of the load.
Many parents find strength training to be a real game changer for their kids, not only in terms of athletic performance, but also when it comes to confidence, focus, and happiness. You might even find your kids are capable of more than you realized. Coach Hannah Caldas shared the story of a few kids who are doing crazy things in CrossFit in her article The Next Generation of CrossFit: Meet Wonder Kids Kanon and Issac. Check out this video of Kanon doing 121 burpees in ten minutes. Imagine what this little guy is going to be able to do with a barbell someday.
Photos 1 and 3 courtesy of CrossFit LA Kids.
Photo 2 courtesy of Nicole Crawford.