Although strength training can be a safe and even beneficial activity for children, it also has its dangers, just like any sport. To avoid problems, find a coach who has experience teaching kids how to lift weights and make sure your child never trains without an experienced adult to supervise. If your child has never lifted weights before, ease him into a strength-training program gradually to avoid injuries.
A variety of injuries have been linked to weight training during childhood, including herniated disks, bone fractures, muscle tears, cartilage injury and growth plate damage. The low back is the most common area for injury, according to data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. The NEISS data estimates that approximately 20,940 to 26,120 injuries occurred between 1991 and 1996 in people under age 21. These injuries were all somehow associated with strength-training equipment. However, keep in mind that this data does not account for the type of training nor the exact cause of the injury, points out the journal "Pediatrics."
What to Avoid
Lifting weights can be an exciting experience for kids and may even boost self-esteem, particularly in children who aren't into other sports. However, most experts agree that children should not pursue weight training as an end in itself. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises children who haven't passed through puberty to avoid disciplines like bodybuilding, power lifting and explosive Olympic lifts. As noted in the book "Pediatric Sports Medicine for Primary Care," "Increasing strength is clearly only one aspect of performance, and it should not be the primary focus of the training regimen."
Like any sport, lifting weights excessively can cause overtraining syndrome. Symptoms of overtraining include decreased performance at school, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, personality changes, and sleep and appetite changes. To prevent overtraining, encourage your child to take at least three rest days during the week and always include a warm-up and cool-down in his workouts. Limiting your child's training to two or three nonconsecutive days of the week can go a long way in preventing overtraining. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, training more than four days a week does not appear to have any benefit for young athletes.
Although there certainly are risks associated with strength training during childhood, a resistance training program can be beneficial for kids. Nevertheless, there are still some common misconceptions about lifting weights during youth. For example, strength training was once thought to stunt growth. However, research has consistently demonstrated that a well-planned program does not interfere with growth and even helps children develop healthy bones, ligaments and joint integrity. Likewise, although injuries can happen, the AAP notes that most of these are preventable and caused by excessive loads, improper form and lack of supervision.
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