More children are entering the fitness movement each year due to the increasing media coverage regarding the rising number of children and adults who suffer from obesity. As a result many parents are asking whether or not their children should be using weights.
To date there are differing opinions on the matter but there is currently no researched evidence to suggest that using weights properly will cause damage to the joints or growth plates of a child. In fact there is evidence to suggest that children who begin good health and fitness habits early in life will have a lower risk of disease and illness as they reach adulthood.
The initial concern about children lifting weights stems from a couple of issues. One was a result of a research study done on children in concentration camps during WWI who were doing heavy manual labor, receiving poor nutrition and little sleep. This is the study to which people point when they claim that weights will damage the growth plates and joints of children.
The issue with the growth plates is interesting because these don’t usually close until around 18 years of age on average for either sex. Most trainers who believe that the growth plates will be damaged also state that young people 16 and older can lift weights. And since the plates aren’t closed until around 18 years old this argument doesn’t hold water.
The criteria that should be used for children to use weights is whether they are able to appropriately follow directions and are involved in a sport that their performance will benefit from the use of weights.
Think of it this way. As a child is 7-10 years old they are probably doing push ups. At this age they can weigh between 60 and 100 pounds. While doing push ups they are placing a weight of between 30 and 50 pounds on their shoulders. This is using weights. When children are jumping they are placing weight stress on their knees, ankles and hips. Doctors don’t tell their young patients not to play with their friends.
In the American College of Sports Medicine Certified News December 2000 physicians agreed that weight lifting for young children posed no risk for to their joints and growth plates when the weights were used appropriately. The National Strength and Conditioning Association also states that they believe there is no harm associated with using weight with children.
The issue of using weights with children should instead be an issue of maturity. When children start using weights at a young age to improve their performance in their sport they sometimes lose the whole fun aspect of the sports and sour on team performance or performance sports at a young age.
Before adding a weight training aspect to the conditioning of young athletes they should be evaluated by their physician to be cleared for the extra work in their program. While weights are not a problem for normally maturing joints and growth plates children who have specific problems or issues should decrease the amount of weight work they do or forego it entirely until the joints have healed.
When training younger athletes the use of functional sports activities rather than strength training specific muscles improves the athlete’s performance while not becoming a mental drain on the child. For instance, using old tires, using parachutes in the gym or rope climbing all achieve the same results of working a muscle against a weight resistance.
We must remember however, that children are not miniature adults. Therefore, designing a weight program for children should never be a scaled down version of a program designed for an adult. Instead a certified professional trainer who is familiar with working with children should design a program specific to the needs of the child and the intended sport.