What is your recommendation for when teenagers can start lifting weights? I began at 14 and recently got my daughter (14) involved. What are the benefits and drawbacks?
The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, as long as you use good form and keep it light
There has been a prevailing sentiment that lifting weights isn’t good for a young body until the teenage years. There is some truth to that statement but let’s make a key distinction between strength training and weight training.
It’s a widely held belief among medical experts that moderate strength training is fine, and even beneficial, to boys and girls starting at ages as young as 6 or 7.
Some benefits: Looking and feeling healthier, maintaining a healthy weight and building the mental and physical discipline to play on a competitive team later on in their youth.
When I say strength training, I mean doing body-weight exercises (push-ups, planks, sit-ups, pull-ups) and lifting light levels of weight (dumb bells, kettlebells, athletic bands, some machines) at a high number of repetitions. As a baseline, do 1 to 3 sets at a weight you can manage for 10 to 15 repetitions.
Before you do anything, though, get your daughter a physical with your pediatrician to see if there are any health precautions you need to take. Then find a certified expert to help develop a safe program for her. Every person is different, and every kid and family has unique athletic goals, so each program will be different.
A physical education teacher can help, or perhaps a local high school coach can direct you to the school’s athletic trainer or strength coach for a program. You can also seek out health professionals at a YMCA or local gym. If you don’t want to pay for a trainer, perhaps your gym or YMCA membership offers a couple of free training sessions you can also attend and develop the right plan for your daughter.
Then, every time she works out, make sure your daughter does so with this professional or a qualified counterpart. This is not the time to work out exclusively with friends. Lifting incorrectly not only develops habits of bad form (correct form is essential for getting stronger) but could cause injuries to muscles or growth plates. Such a setback will require extended rest and, perhaps more germane, time away from an activity she loves.
Also, make sure she take at least one day off in between sessions.
This is not bodybuilding. A child won’t get really muscular at a young age, but doing so shouldn’t be your intent. Strength training can actually help boys and girls reduce injuries when they play their sports. If they don’t play on a team, it’s a great way to maintain high self-esteem, and what did doesn’t need that?
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Whichever program your child gets on now builds a foundation for later in life (after puberty), whether it’s training specific muscles for a sport he or she pursues in high school or college or remaining motivated to work out into adulthood. The workout he or she begins at a young age can be adjusted and modified with gradual weight increases and maintained into their teen years and over a lifetime.
H.K., you can also tell your daughter that professional athletes thrive on routines, whether it’s taking swings or ground balls before every game or a shooting a bunch of jumpers after them. Professionals also often have someone to work with and motivate them, which brings me to similar reader question I recently received…
At what age do you consider getting a personal trainer for your athlete?
A trainer can be an importance source of strength and confidence; make sure your child is mature enough for one
There are a least a couple of types of personal trainers you can find for your youth or teenaged athlete. One is someone who can help with strength and conditioning (see above); another is a more specific coach (such as a hitting or shooting coach) who can help you fine-tune your skills a particular sport.
What age to start with a trainer is a tricky question. In this highly scrutinized world of youth sports in which everyone wants their kid to be the best, there is an urge to get into personal training as soon as possible.
However, there is such a thing as too early of an age to start working with someone. If your child has trouble getting through a sports practice or session with a trainer or coach without getting distracted, it’s probably too soon to start. Wait until you see more focus.
When my older son was 9 or 10, I already had him working with a hitting and pitching coach, which was probably too soon in his case. At one point, the pitching coach asked him, “Do you want to be here?” I, like many parents, pushed on and now he is still 16 and working with the same coach, who has done wonders for his pitching. But I could have saved a few bucks by waiting longer to get started with the private coach.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money, either. Maybe a coach of the team is willing to offer a few pointers. Coaches love to see their own pupils thrive.
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During your kid’s training sessions, take notes and be willing to evolve with the times (not just hold onto insight from your athletic glory days). That way, you can help administer the lessons yourself if you are away on vacation or if a regular trainer is too costly.
Being familiar with your player’s routine is a great way to bond with your son or daughter, too, especially at younger ages. You can always revisit a trainer, as needed, later on in their athletic careers.
As I have seen with my own sons and elsewhere, the right personal trainer can be an important motivator, inspirer and friend.
Steve Borelli, aka Coach Steve, has been an editor and writer with USA TODAY since 1999. He spent 10 years coaching his two sons’ baseball and basketball teams. He and his wife, Colleen, are now loving life as sports parents for a high schooler and middle schooler. For his past columns, click here.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Weight lifting for youth athletes: When should teenagers start?