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Weight Training: Age and Development

The importance of age would appear to even the most casual observer to be a no-brainer. Alas, you do not see some of the patients in my medical practice. You would be amazed how many parents are frothing at the mouth to have their kids lifting weights at very young ages or when they have just started a new sport. Whoa! Hang on a bit.

To add a little reality to the scenario of prepubertal iron pumping, let’s look at the reality of science and research. This isn’t Dumbbells for Dummies here. I’m talking scientific research, and there has actually been a lot of scientific interest in this subject. Inquiring minds want to know if it’s OK for young Johnny or Janie to be reaching for those weights.

Many years ago, people abandoned the notion of youth lifting weights altogether. The thought was that children were not able to get stronger or bigger because they did not have enough testosterone in their bodies until after puberty. We have learned a lot since then and now know that girls and boys can actually gain strength before they are even close to puberty. The real question is not how that happens, but is it necessary or even worth it? I will discuss with you how it happens and things to consider when deciding if it is necessary or appropriate.

Age is a big factor. To carry out strength training effectively, athletes must have correct form and be able to move the weight in a safe and efficient manner. Balance, control, posture, and coordination start to mature to adult levels by around 7 to 8 years of age. In the majority of cases, it would not be appropriate (or safe) to allow weight training before age 7. It still seems to be common sense that strength training even at that age is questionable for any long-term benefit. Other developmental factors play a role here, too. Milestones such as attention span, ability to stay focused, and maturity to accept and understand instruction all apply. If the child has not reached a level of development to satisfy those criteria, spend the time and energy doing something else and let him lift the garbage instead of weights.

Paul R. Stricker, MD, FAAP
Last Updated
Sports Success Rx! Your Child's Prescription for the Best Experience (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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