Now that the Olympics is in full swing, children –and their parents – all over the world are wondering if they have the athleticism to compete in sports on the world stage.
It is great to aspire to become an Olympian and the next Michael Phelps, Sydney McLaughlin (who just celebrated her 17th birthday), Shakur Stevenson (who is a teenager at 19 years-old), Montgomery County, MD, phenom Katie Ledecky (19 years-old) or Sarah Robles, but how old should be a child be before beginning athletic training?
As a Certified Athletic Trainer and the founder of Fitness for Health, a therapeutic, exercise facility working with children through senior citizens – and professional athletes such as Olympic Boxer Shakur Stevenson – in the Washington, DC, area, I am routinely asked, “When can my child begin lifting weights/strength training to prepare for sports season or the Olympics in 2024?”
“Resistance training,” “strength training” and “weight training” all relate to the use of free weights and/or weight machines to increase muscular strength and muscular endurance. Weight lifting involves the use of free weights (usually heavier than those used in weight training). It is very important to remember that lifting weights can cause injury, especially if the athlete is not physically mature enough to handle the movement and/or weight. Proper technique is also very important for injury prevention and for maximum results — no matter your age.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that:
- Children be well supervised by qualified adults.
- Any weight training program be appropriate to the child’s stage of maturation and assessed objectively by medical personnel. (Proper bone development is one of the key factors to assess.)
- Children avoid weight lifting, power lifting, bodybuilding and the use of maximal amounts of weight until they have met certain developmental criteria.
The biggest indication of whether children can lift weights is their physically maturity. Using weights or excessively exercising at a young age can impair their growth permanently. Although it’s true that exercising strengthens your muscles and bones, doing too much too soon and improper form can lead to damaging muscles and bones with injuries. Extra care is needed for teenagers with an interest for weight training – whether for sports or personal health.
Speak to a physician before allowing your child to begin a strength or weight training regimen. To give yourself peace of mind, consider working with an athletic trainer who has a degree in kinesiology or physical education and has experience working with children and teenagers. Or, register your child in a program at a children’s gym where he/she will receive one-on-on instruction in a workout specifically designed to meet his/her individual goals.
Encouraging kids to be physically active is important at any age. In fact, kids who are active at a young age tend to stay active later in life — and have a lower risk of becoming obese and developing heart disease. But, it is also important to ask your child why he/she wants to begin a more formalized workout program. Is it to lose weight to increase self-esteem? Improve athletic skills? Begin bodybuilding? Your child’s answers will give you an indication whether he/she is emotionally ready and also clue you in if any problems may exist. For example, if your child is being bullied, he/she may want to “bulk up” in order to feel safe and secure.
About Fitness for Health:
Do you or your child want an athletic edge for fall sports? Want to train like a professional athlete? Want a workout like a 2016 Olympian boxer?
Try EDGE Training – Athletic Performance Development to improve hand-eye coordination, visual reaction time, peripheral awareness, agility, balance, proprioception and athletic conditioning utilizing the latest in exergaming technology. All are areas that will make the difference – and give you the EDGE during game time.