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Is Weight Training Safe for Kids?

Experts say weight training is safe for healthy children -- with some precautions.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Is strength training safe for children and teens? Will it help them stay fit, compete in sports -- or will it hamper their growth and pose an injury risk?

Fitness and children's health experts answer those questions and more.

Is strength training safe for children?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), strength training -- which includes lifting free weights, using weight machines, or doing exercises that use elastic tubing or one's own body weight for resistance -- can be safe, if these rules are followed:

  • Wait until the child is old enough.
  • Get a check-up first.
  • Don't overdo it.
  • Make sure the child's workouts are supervised by a qualified trainer who emphasizes safety and correct technique.

Weight training improves strength in teens and preteens. "Not the way an adult male would increase muscle size -- they won't get bulky and big like an adult, but will have increased strength," says Teri M. McCambridge, MD, a pediatric sports medicine specialist in Towson, Md. who chairs the AAP's council on sports medicine and fitness.

McCambridge and colleagues wrote the AAP's 2008 policy statement on strength training in children and teens. That project involved reviewing recent research on the topic.

How old should a child be before they start strength training?

At least 7 or 8, McCambridge says. It takes that long for the child's balance and posture control to mature, according to the AAP.

The child's age also affects how much weight they should use. ''The younger they are, we recommend light weights, proper form, higher repetitions," McCambridge says.

But children 7 to 8 probably don't ''need'' to strength train to have a well-rounded physical activity regimen, McCambridge says.

Weight training programs must be appropriate for the age and development of the child. Supervision is crucial, especially with younger children.

Free weights may be better than machines, which are typically designed for longer limbs, says Debi  Pillarella, a certified personal trainer and fitness program manager for the Community Hospital Fitness Pointe in Munster, Ind., and American Council on Exercise spokeswoman. That may change, she says, as "some companies are making youth-sized equipment."

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."

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