Weightlifting is one of the safest sports and benefit children by improving muscle, bone, tendon and ligament strength. So why is it frowned upon?
Let's bust the myth: Lifting weights at a young age DOES NOT stunt growth—and we will tell you all about it. We start by defining what lifting weights mean. It is not just simply carrying groceries or heavy house furniture, but rather, we mean the intention to build muscles and strength. More technically, it is also known as weight training, a common type of strength training that develops the strength and size of skeletal muscles. This in logical theory itself, already shows that lifting weights at young ages does not stunt growth.
But if you remain skeptical, many scientists, doctors, nutritionists, and other specialists in this field have done intense research to label the myth as ‘invalid’. The truth is, weightlifting or training, remains as one of the safest sports—when done CORRECTLY.
Take a look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, seven-time Mr Olympia (a competition that recognizes the world's top male bodybuilder). He chose bodybuilding as a career at age 14 and trained hard to make it to the top. With proper training and guidance, weightlifting techniques can be perfected and assures safety while working out.
Studies have also shown that when performed under the right conditions, weightlifting can have positive benefits for children and even encourage engaging in strength training at a young age. Some benefits include increasing bone, tendon and ligament strength, contributing to a stronger body that reduces the risk of injuries.
When, How, What
We have answered why children should weightlift, it is time to answer the when, how and what. We often get asked a series of questions about age and weightlifting, and we have come up with answers to clarify:
1. When is the best age to start weightlifting?
Generally, as soon as a child is able to play organized sports, he or she is ready to work out with weights. This is not because of any physiological factors, but more so about behaviour.
The child must be able to follow directions, understand proper form and be disciplined enough to adhere to and understand safety procedures—this includes warming up before and cooling down after. If we were to put an age to it, this readiness starts from 7-8 years old. Any younger than that is not advisable, and this time not because of behaviour, but because the balance and body control skills are not fully developed.
2. How to begin?
Start by avoiding machines. Just like adults, children need gradual progression and starting with light weights while focusing on repetitions and form is key. The starting weight should always depend on the child's strength ability. A simple eight-rep test can help determine the starting weight—if the child cannot do eight reps with the weight, it is too heavy. For progression, when a child hits 15 reps with the weight, it is time to go 10% heavier. Remember, form is key.
3. Will the child keep growing muscles instead of height?
Funnily enough, this is one of the biggest concerns we have come across. Parents are concerned that their children will be stunted and bulky. To that, we always point to our good Mr. Schwarzenegger who stands tall at 6"2 feet.
To clarify, when girls are below age 11 and boys below age 12, they lack the testosterone that is largely responsible for increasing muscle size. Instead, weightlifting helps develop muscle strength. Upon puberty, testosterone hits and weightlifting then helps muscles grow in size.
In terms of height, it is all down to genes and nutrition. Genes is something we cannot alter, but nutrition is in our control. Proper nutrition balance is important and having too much of one thing and too little of another will affect growth.
4. Are there any other factors to be considered?
Children must be treated as children. There can be no expectations that they will be mature enough not to play with other equipment in the gym. Supervision and instruction from a qualified strength-training coach is VERY IMPORTANT. Most injuries that have made weightlifting "dangerous" were usually the result of misuse of equipment without supervision.
But, with the right supervision and proper technique, weightlifting injury rates are in fact much lower compared to other sports or even from lunch breaks at school.
Will your child will be the next strongest kid in the world?