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“When can my child start lifting weights?”

Chris Gabriel, Physical Therapist at OrthoCarolina, gets asked that question almost every day. Chris, who is a certified strength and conditioning specialist who works with high school, college and even professional athletes, wants to let parents know that if they’re wondering about kids’ weight training, they aren’t alone.

“Sports are more competitive than they used to be, and many parents hope to get an early edge in order to help their children work toward a college scholarship.” Chris said. “There is no easy answer, but looking at few factors can help make sure that if and how they lift weights is safe as well as beneficial.”

This week, Chris took a few minutes to chat with us about the most common questions he hears from parents about their kids’ weight training.

Q: When can/should my child start lifting weights?
A: Age can be variable since all kids mature differently. Look for the development of secondary sex characteristics (voice change, body hair, breast development in females). For most kids this is sometime during middle school. Prior to that age, body weight and elastic bands may provide a safer form of resistance. The true key when it comes to weightlifting for children is ensuring that proper form, resistance level and rest intervals are followed.

Q: Ok, I think my middle schooler is ready for the weight room. Where should he/she start?
A: First and foremost, athletes at any level should be able to master their body weight before adding additional resistance. This means developing proficiency with the basics: push-ups, chin-ups, planks and balance activities. Sprints and hill running can build muscle and improve performance also. It is not at all uncommon to have an athlete who wants to start bench pressing, yet he or she can’t even do 10 push-ups with proper form.

Q: Are there risks involved with kids lifting?
A: Risks are less than in most sports (in Chris’s opinion) if things are properly supervised. Most of the injuries come from horseplay or dropping plates/dumbbells onto the feet. Back injuries can occur in squatting heavier weights using improper form. Shoulder injuries can happen as well, but occur more in adults than kids. If kids receive good coaching on technique and proper supervision, weightlifting is very safe.

Q: What can my younger child do to build strength as an alternative to lifting weights?
A: Younger children should always be encouraged to engage in more free play that is not structured by adults — pick up games, swinging, climbing, tag, tug-of-war… These all help to develop age-appropriate strength and body control. The point is to make it fun. As children approach school age, it is good to encourage body weight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, planks, balance work, jogging or sprinting, and organized sports that encourage gross motor patterns. Sports such as gymnastics or martial arts are excellent in teaching children body control to prepare them for more skill-based sports or weightlifting later on. Again, everyone should be able to control his or her own body weight prior to working with additional resistance in the weight room.

Need more info? Visit OrthoCarolina online.



About OrthoCarolina
OrthoCarolina is one of the nation’s leading independent academic orthopedics practices serving North Carolina and the Southeast since 1922. They provide comprehensive musculoskeletal care including operative and non-operative care, diagnostic imaging and rehabilitative therapy. Widely known for musculoskeletal research and training, OrthoCarolina’s physicians have specialized expertise in foot & ankle, hip & knee, shoulder & elbow, spine, sports medicine, hand, pediatric orthopedics and physical medicine and rehabilitation. They have more than 130 surgeons amongst 25 plus locations.