When is the time for kids to start strength training?

Are you watching the “March Madness” basketball games? I love it when the cameras show the parents of the players. It reminds me that these superb athletes at one point were children and it took a whole lot of work and support for them to be able to reach their full potential on the court. And part of that work undoubtedly included strength training.

With so many kids active in sports at young ages in the US, how do parents decide it is the right time for their kids to start strength training?

Reasons that prompt parents, coaches, and kids to consider strength training for kids vary—to help kids further excel at a sport, to help kids keep up with friends who had early growth spurts, to help kids stay fit for health reasons, to help kids grab those lacrosse scholarships before high school, and on and on.

The question should my kids be strength training becomes when should my kids start strength training?

According to “Strength Training and Your Child,” by KidsHealth® from Nemours, “Generally, if your child is ready to participate in organized sports or activities such as baseball, soccer, or gymnastics, it is usually safe to start strength training.”

Okay, that sounds reasonable KidsHealth® from Nemours, but how good does my child need to be at these activities to safely start strength training? Should I wait until my eight-year-old is sinking three-pointers? The short answer (no pun intended) is no.

“Kids as young as 7 or 8 years old can usually do strength-training activities (such as pushups and sit-ups) as long as they show some interest, can perform the exercises safely, and follow instructions. These exercises can help kids build a sense of balance, control, and awareness of their bodies,” states Kids Health® from Nemours.

Balance, control, and awareness of their bodies sound like reasonable goals for kids who are learning and testing how their bodies work. But strength training means barbells, powerlifting, and pumping iron, right? Wrong. Before you purchase matching track suits, read the following advice:

“A child's strength-training program shouldn't just be a scaled-down version of an adult's weight training regimen. A trainer who has experience in working with kids should design a program for your child and show your child the proper techniques, safety precautions, and how to properly use the equipment,” advises Kids Health® from Nemours.

Strength training is not the same process as “bulking up.” Parents and kids need to learn the differences between strength training and weight lifting from an expert to avoid unrealistic expectations and injuries. Discuss the outcomes with your child that you both would like from strength training before you talk with a personal trainer for kids about how best to achieve those goals.

Furthermore, strength training should be fun for kids—something they enjoy doing. Otherwise, the strength-training exercises will bore them and they will be less likely to benefit from doing them. Having fun is a perfectly acceptable strength-training goal for kids. In fact, having fun is the first name of the game!

Shannon Mullally is an editor for School Zone Publishing, 
in Grand Haven, Mich. She has a doctorate in English and Creative Writing. Her Twitter handle is @SMMullally. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent those of her employer.