How young is too young to start hitting the gym? It's never too early to start thinking about scoring a winning touchdown or playing college sports... But, can training like your idols before your body is mature be a mistake?
I recently saw a video on Twitter of a 6th-Grade PE class in Guenther, Texas that made me want to figure out the answer. In the video, a weightroom full of 12 year-olds were doing squats as the teacher counted the reps. At each station in in every row of racks, one kid was lifting, the next was spotting, and the third was counting - eagerly awaiting their turn to lift.
Check out the video below:
Personally, I thought this was awesome. Dozens of young kids learning the right way to build strength with their classmates. But, it also did make me ask a few questions about the pros and cons of starting to develop your muscles early?
While that PE class on Twitter may be a surprise to an older generation who played Capture The Flag and dodgeball, 6th grade is actually well beyond the youngest age that experts recommend children can start building strength.
What Is The Best Age To Start Lifting Weights?
Most experts believe that 7-years-old or 8-years-old, children are mature enough to see benefits from strength training without affecting their natural growth.
At this age, kids can start to understand the benefits of becoming stronger, while also boosting their self-confidence and naturally improving dexterity. It is important, though, that children at this age aren't starting with exercises and equipment they can't grasp.
Starting with low-resistance exercises like hill climbs, pushups, squats, and bear crawls can be especially helpful, while also helping them stay safe. Avoid using heavy weights and never let a child be around equipment without an adult their to assist them.
If A Child Is Playing Sports, Should They Be Lifting Weights?
The short answer to this question is yes. If a child is using their leg muscles to play soccer or their biceps and triceps to hit a baseball, they are definitely mature enough to be building those muscles. In fact, strength training and resistance training - when done responsibly - can help to prevent injuries while helping them develop more skills on the field.
But, parents and coaches should also pay attention to whether a very young athlete is interested in weight-training. At a young age like 7 or 8, sports and exercise should not be a chore.
Make sure you create fun ways to start resistance training and lifting and establish an understanding of why daily strength-training can help develop them into the athletes they watch on TV. Becoming physically strong and athletic is a process, so focusing on the fun aspects and technique is the best way to avoid burnout.
Can Weightlifting Lead To More Opportunities For Children?
Just as athletes are developing their bodies and muscle groups, strength-training at a young age can also introduce a child to other opportunities in sports or in life.
When a child becomes more familiar with what their body can do, they are usually more eager to try new things. For a child that started doing squats to become a faster running back, he will quickly understand that his new leg muscles are ideal for Track & Field, Rugby, or even Bobsled. The sooner an athlete understands how the body and sports are intertwined, the more opportunities will come when coaches discover them.
Similarly, athletes who fall in love with weightlifting can find tons of opportunities in that sport as well. On GMTM, USA Weightlifting has launched their USA Weightlifting Combine Series to discover new Olympic prospects training at home during the pandemic.
Did you know? The International Weightlifting Federation recognizes two classes specifically for children and young adults. The IWF Youth Division hosts international competitions for athletes ages 13 to 17. The Junior Division allows athletes aged 15 to 20 to compete against the best weightlifting athletes in their age group.
Alternatively, becoming a strength trainer or coach is becoming a more and more lucrative career path. Growing strength programs at universities and CrossFit gyms across the U.S. are creating more and more opportunities for young people interested in exercise science.
The idea of introducing resistance exercises to children will make some people cringe. They'll mention how too much weight can harm the natural growth of a child or help them develop worries about their self-image. "Kids should have time to be kids" is what they'll most likely say.
But I disagree with those statements. Part of what makes "being a kid" so great is dreaming and acting on all of your passions. If a child loves music, teachers and parents shouldn't take away their instruments to protect their sensitive ears. Instead, they should just provide safety measures like ear plugs and let the child keep learning and developing.
Similarly, athletes who love sports or being physically active, shouldn't be forbidden from building muscles, but rather taught how to do it safely. Start with less weight, fewer reps, and a focus on technique.
*Scotty Jenkins is a staff writer for GMTM covering all sports. He is from Nebraska, where he grew up slowly in the midst of the Husker football dynasty of the 1990s... Since 2002, he has been aging much more rapidly."