As more and more children engage in year round sports, the importance of a structured year round training program becomes more apparent. Strength training is an essential component of high school/college/professional sports. But, should children and adolescents lift weights? At what age is it safe to begin training with weights?

     Many myths persist about strength training and children, such as: lifting weights stunts growth, damages cartilage, causes mis-shapened bones. The reality is, children who strength train properly receive many of the same benefits adults get from lifting weights: increased resistance to sports-related injury, enhanced psychosocial well-being, strengthens bones (and muscles), improves sports performance, facilitates weight control, and stimulates the brain more than any other activity (reading, writing, and playing games included).

     Studies have shown that youth can significantly increase muscle strength above and beyond normal growth and development, provided the program is of sufficient duration, intensity, and volume. Furthermore, children can gain strength at a rate equal to or greater than adults. Even children as young as 5 and 6 can benefit from lifting weights.

     Injuries are a risk with any activity. Overall, though, lifting weights (including competitive weightlifting) is a lot safer that other sports, such as football, soccer, cheerleading, gymnastics, biking, roller sports and playground activities. One three year study found that 2/3 of all weight lifting injuries in 8-13 year olds were due to dropping weights and pinching fingers—easily preventable injuries with proper supervision. In general, children should only be enrolled in strength training programs that have qualified instructors, appropriate program design, safe exercise environment, and strict adherence to safety guidelines.

     So is weight training safe for children? Yes. And children as young as 5 can safely begin lifting weights.