My 12 year old son wants to lift weights to get stronger.  Can children lift weights?

First and foremost, exercise along with a healthy diet are perhaps the most important factors for a child to live a healthy lifestyle.  While I do not believe that any adolescent or young teenager should weight train in order to look like the incredible hulk, training can be performed if done in a controlled and supervised setting.  Safety is always the #1 priority. Additionally, before a child begins any strength training regimen, they should first have a physical performed by their pediatrician.

Exercises should first be performed with no resistance, meaning no weights.  After teaching proper techniques on stretching, the focus should be on aerobic exercise such as running or calisthenics with a combination of sit-ups and push-ups to help develop core muscles and increase strength.  Each exercise, including sit-ups and push-ups should be demonstrated and then supervised by an adult to ensure proper technique.

Once the child is ready and the decision has been made by parents and coaches to allow resistance training, exercises should be introduced first without any weight/resistance, and demonstrated by an adult certified in proper lifting techniques.  When resistance is applied it should start at a very low weight with incremental weight increases no greater than 10% per week and should never exceed the child’s total body weight.  Any sign of injury should be evaluated by a physician prior to returning to the exercise regimen.

It cannot be stressed enough that children using any type of exercise equipment should be supervised by a responsible adult at ALL times.  Before allowing children to begin, take this opportunity to talk with them about the dangers of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs.

For specific questions regarding weight training for preadolescents and adolescents, please consult with your physician.  More information including the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on strength training by children and adolescents can be found at the AAP website (www.aap.org).