Should kids be lifting weights? The biggest myth surrounding weightlifting is that it may stunt a child’s growth. The caution behind weight training is the possibility of hurting the growth plates of a growing child. The growth plates are found at the end of long bones and are responsible for elongating and bone growth during the developmental years. However, this fear of stunting growth only becomes dangerous when children are allowed to lift heavy using improper technique.
Due to the controversially of the issue, child weightlifting has been researched extensively. There are specific recommendations and regulations put in place to prevent injuries and instead deliver a proper strength training routine to children. The recommendations include focusing on proper form and using low weights, high repetitions as part of the training. The American Academy of Pediatrics, AAP, has a collection of articles and publications that have found these suggestions beneficial for training. Additionally, they advised that this type of training should be done by a qualified professional and tailored to the child.
According to The British Journal of Sports Medicine, resistance training can be beneficial to children. Studies have shown that strength training and exercise promotes bones mass production, leading to a decreased likelihood of sprain in adulthood, strengthening of the ligaments and bones, and muscular strength and endurance. This is discussed in the “Position Statement on Youth Resistance Training: The 2014 International Consensus” article published by the journal in 2013.
Weightlifting for children should focus on proper technique and movement, rather than heavy lifting. Using body weight, or free weights will create a sufficient challenge and stress for the child. The recommendation is to use low weights and high repetitions. If these recommendations are properly adhered to, the child’s growth will not be stunted, according to the AAP.
What are the benefits?
Resistance training has a lot to offer. Children can expect to gain muscular strength and endurance, prevent development of athletic injuries by fortifying their muscles, bones, and joints, improved performance in sports, and other physical and mental benefits from physical activity.
What is the proper age to begin strength training?
The Mayo Clinic recommends that as early as 7 or 8 years of age kids can start to incorporating resistance training in their fitness routine. At this age strength training is safe for kids because it is the time in their development in which they gain proper posture control and balance.
Additionally, there is a gym in the town of Gainesville that works with an array of people of all different skill-levels. The Ark offers training free of charge to children of middle and high school age who are eligible for free or reduced-lunch. The head Coach, Michael Espinosa, has clocked thousands of hours of training and coaching experience. He produced a youth USA Weightlifting state champion his first year at The Ark in 2014, and is currently working with about 5 youth weightlifters ranging in age from 7 to 14 years old. But training children comes with it’s challenges. For Coach Michael, it’s not discipline, but consistency in attendance and poor mobility that’s the problem. “The children who we want to serve--those who receive free or reduced lunch--they’re the ones whose parents are working all the time and don’t have the resources to shuttle their kids from point A to point B. Or, they’re out on the street, and don’t have someone to push them to do the right thing.”
Coach Michael also works with a group of 14 and 15-year-old track kids who come in on a weekly basis to get their strength training. Weightlifting is the only sport that is practiced by athletes of other sports, to get better at their own sports. In other words, strength training carries over to almost every sport.
“Strength and speed are synonymous,” says Amateur Athletic Union, AAU, track and field coach, Danny Grant. “The stronger they are, the faster they run on the track.” According to Coach Grant, strength becomes especially important during the hurdle and long jump competitions because these require more advanced coordination and relative strength, both of which are provided by strength training. Coach Grant looks to The Ark for this specific training because this level of advanced weightlifting training cannot be done in high school, since the large class size creates a greater liability. Additionally, many of the high school coaches do not teach the snatch and the clean. Because his athletes train at The Ark, Coach Danny says this “puts them in an even playing field against kids in other states.” Strength training is imperative for track runners because it acts as an “introduction to building big muscle groups,” says Coach Danny. “The sport trains the muscles you can’t get to by just running, and this most noticeable during explosive movements like coming off the blocks, in jumps, hurdles, and triple jump. Converting horizontal speed into vertical jump requires substantial strength training.” These are competitions that require more control of the body and proper training so that actions like landing on one leg are not compromised. It is not surprising that the three past state champions have been the strongest kids on the team.
Dwayne “Duce” Hyggins, one of The Ark’s youth athletes, age 11, has been training for 8 months and has been recognized by multiple coaches of The Ark for having exemplary technique. Duce comes because he enjoys learning about snatches and cleans. However, that’s not all he does while at The Ark. After Coach trains him, Deuce enjoys playing around in the monkey bars, playing basketball, swinging around in the rings, or practicing his box jumps. “Kids spend their day doing all sorts of physical activity and at times this does involve some heavy lifting while they play. It is only logical that they learn the correct form so that they don’t injure themselves while they play,” says Coach Michael. “It is important that they learn to control and sustain their body weight.”
Lincoln Weaver is another youth weightlifter who has made impressive progress. He joined The Ark when he was 12 years old, after expressing a desire to workout to his parents. Nicki Weaver, Lincoln’s mother, joins him for workouts. “While the workouts were like nothing that either one of us had ever done, and we were surrounded by people who were far more athletic than either of us, we were both welcomed and encouraged every time we showed up.” At first, she had her reservations about weightlifting for her son but after experiencing its effects and becoming a part of the community, things changed. “Every single person welcomed Lincoln and treated him with the same enthusiastic respect that they afford all of the adults. Everyone at the Ark has been such a great example for a kid. The men and women are all super strong and fit and disciplined and helpful.” Joining The Ark has become more than a fitness routine for the mom-son duo, it is a bonding experience. “It's such a treat to be able to share this time and experience with my teenage son. He is able to help me with with my form and often gives me helpful advice. It has been an interesting turn of the tables! Now we are participating in the Crossfit Open, [a competition], together!”
If done correctly, weightlifting is beneficial to children. If you’re looking for a change in your child’s routine or want to enhance their performance in other sports, stop by The Ark and see what they have to offer.