Strength training for children
How to to make your little athlete strong and healthy
Strength training doesn't only refer to working with weights. It can also include calisthenics or any exercise that uses your child's own body for resistance, such as sit-ups and pull-ups. In fact, lifting weights is discouraged for young children because traditional weight machines are designed to accomodate adult-sized bodies.
"Any form of weightlifting before age 8 is not recommended, as there are other methods of strength training without the use of weights," said Dana Harrison, PT, MPT, manager of Cook Children's Sports Performance Orthopedic Rehab Team Specialists (SPORTS). "Studies show that kids who don't begin intense training until high school actually perform better at the college level."
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a child's balance and postural control skills reach maturity around age 7 or 8, making weight training unnecessary before then. The AAP also recommends children wait to weightlift until they have a proficient level of skill in the sport for which they are training. Trying to improve your child's soccer skills by weight training won't help much in the first year or two of playing.
For school-age children, the goal of sports training should be developing a well-rounded skillset that includes not only just muscle strength, but also balance, coordination, agility, flexibility, stamina and cardiovascular fitness. Exercicse routines for children should include calisthenics, running, jumping, stretching and sports-specific practices. Children also should play a variety of seasonal sports such as soccer in the fall, baseball in the spring or volleyball in the summer. Focusing solely on one sport, skill or muscle group as a child can lead to muscle or bone damage that increases the risk of osteoarthritis later in life.
"One of the biggest problems we see with kids is overuse injuries," Harrison said. "Coaches are training young kids like college athletes, trying to do too much, too soon. Before age 8, sports and other activities should be about having fun."
- SPORTS resources
- Does your child play one sport?
- 9 ways to prevent injuries in young athletes
- Cheerleader injuries
- Dance injury prevention
- Top 10 questions parents have about sports injuries
- Young athlete's injury prevention guide
- Strength training in children/adolescents (5-15 years)
- Rise of overuse injuries in school-age athletes
- The basics of sports injury prevention for kids
- When growing pains are not growing pains
- Preventing children's sports injuries
- Pain that won't go away
About the source
Dana Harrison, PT, MPT is Cook Children’s SPORTS program/Rehab manager. Our physicians, therapists, nurses and technologists work exclusively with kids and understand the unique needs of a growing athlete's bones, muscles, body and mind.