Is Weight Training Safe for Kids?
Experts say weight training is safe for healthy children -- with some precautions.
Will strength training compromise a child's growth?
Not if it's done in a safe, supervised, appropriate manner, according to the AAP. Fears about weight training affecting growth are unfounded, Pillarella says.
Body building and competitive weight lifting is another matter. In its 2008 statement on strength training for children and teens, the AAP says it is "hesitant" to support competitive weight lifting in children whose skeletons are still maturing. The AAP also says it is "opposed to childhood involvement in power lifting, body building, or the use of one-repetition maximum lift as a way to determine gains strength."
What's needed before kids start weight training?
The data on whether strength training improves children's sports performance is inconsistent, McCambridge says.
Pillarella's 13-year-old son, Joe, says weight training several times per week at home or at a gym has helped him as an athlete. "In baseball, it made my swing stronger," he tells WebMD.
Some research suggests that "prehabilitation" -- strength training that targets body areas often hit by overuse injuries -- may reduce injuries in teens. But it's unclear if the same benefit applies to preteen athletes.
There is no evidence that strength training can reduce ''catastrophic" youth sports injuries -- the kind that could bench a young player for a season or longer, according to the AAP.
What other benefits are there from children's weight training?
Pillarella says she's seen weight training improving children's posture, body composition, and self-image.
In the teen program she directs, the kids are asked when they come in, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel about your body?" Over time, with weight training, the scores improve. "We can see over time, their self-esteem numbers will go up," Pillarella says.
Can overweight kids weight train?
Yes, if their doctor approves. "In obese kids, it's actually a good activity," McCambridge says. It can improve their cholesterol levels, build strength, and perhaps help them lose weight.
And, for teens and pre-teen who aren't into sports, weight training may evolve into a lifelong exercise, McCambridge says.
Of course, the same rules about supervision and safety apply, regardless of the child's size.