Young Athletes & Weight Training

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Reviewed by Ashley Soldera

It has often been questioned whether or not children should train with weights. I am sure you have heard someone say "weight training stunts growth in children". Some have even commented that weight training is bad for the joints. There is no evidence to support these assumptions; however, in reality, the risks appear to be far less than in popular sports such as football, running, or basketball. In this article, we will look at what real world observations, as well as sports science has to say about children and weight training.

As I said earlier, other activities have shown higher incidents of injury than weight training. Biomechanical research has shown that activities such as throwing, running and hitting impose larger forces on the body than weight training. These activities have been shown to place heavier stress on the growth plates of growing bones than weight training. To minimize the potential for growth plate damage, closer attention should be given to the above-mentioned activities. I find it hard to believe that parents do not have a problem with their children playing football, but are scared to death for their kid to touch a weight.

From 1977-1988, ninety high school football players suffered cervical spine injuries, while fifteen players suffered brain damage. How many trainees suffered brain damage due to weight training? Studies done by Orthopedists have not found epiphyseal damage to be any greater in weight-trained children in comparison with non-weight trained children. Studies have shown that children who weight train have higher bone mineral densities. These studies indicate that weight training can be beneficial to the strengthening of bone. Physical education classes are more extensive in Easter European countries than in the USA. In these countries some children begin weight lifting as early as 6 years old. In the first year general conditioning and technique mastery of the clean & jerk and snatch are emphasized. Once a general conditioning base has been established basic strength and technique development exercises are introduced to the program. Over the next 2-3 years, the athlete's workout becomes more intense and specialized.

The American Society of Pediatrics and the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine have cited that weight training can be positive for children. These organizations have stated the need for careful workout planning, practice of proper biomechanics and supervision by a qualified trainer. Children training with weights have shown minimal hypertrophy in response to this stimulus. They have shown significant strength gains which can be contributed to nervous system factors.

Research has reveled that younger athletes can gain strength with lower intensities than older athletes. High intensity training in youngsters has been shown to be counterproductive to strength gains while at the same time increasing chances of injury. Injuries that occur during weight training are usually due to athletes pushing too hard or perform improper technique. Thus, proper supervision is very important.

Training Tips for Children

1) Rarely Attempt Maximum Efforts. Maximum effort could be in the form of a 1rm or 5rm. Technical errors are more likely to occur when taking a muscle to temporary muscular failure.

2) Emphasize Proper Technique. Mastering technique should be the main goal when beginning a weight-training program. When proper technique is mastered strength and size gains will quickly follow.

3) Establish Realistic Goals. By establishing realistic goals the athlete is better able to see the gains they are looking for. Children should be taught weight training is a lifetime endeavor. Seeking improvement is a life long travel. Children should also realize everyone has a genetic ceiling. It is not possible for every one to become a world-class athlete.

4) Pay Close Attention To Overtraining. Young athletes require extra energy for growth purposes. Over-trained athletes are more susceptible to illness and injury. Excessive stress on the body can cause damage to growth cartilage.

5) Young Athletes Need Proper Supervision. Young athletes need supervision to ensure they are following and optimal training program. Young athletes have a tendency to let their mind wander. The trainer should help remind the athlete that proper concentration is required to successfully perform the exercise.

6) Individualization Applies To Children Just As It Does Adults. Children mature physically and psychologically at different rates. Children possess different metabolic and biomechanical qualities that cater to their specific body type. Training plans should be personalized to meet a young athletes needs.

When training children, pay close attention to the variables mentioned above. Keep in mind, there is a possibility for injury when participating in any physical activity. When a young athlete decides to play football, basketball, soccer, or compete in any athletic activity it is important that the parent supports this. Make sure that the young athlete has coaches that are concerned with the well being of the athlete. If the coach supports winning at all costs or train until you puke; find another coach. Proper weight training or participation in any physically challenging activity can enrich a child's life.


Drechsler, A. (1998) The Weightlifting Encyclopedia A Guide To World Class Performance. A Is A Communications.

Hale, J. (2000) OPTIMUM PHYSIQUE. Jamie Hale Siff, M. (2000) Facts and Fallacies of Fitness. Mel Siff.