Too young to weight lift?

Originally Published: September 17, 1999 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: September 3, 2008
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Alice,

I have a thirteen-year-old son who wants to start lifting weights. Is he too young?

Dear Reader,

It's great that your son wants to lift something besides the remote. Indeed, there are questions to ask before he begins to pump iron. What are his motivations for lifting weights? Does he want to become stronger for a particular sport? Is he unhappy with his appearance? Are all of his friends doing it? The purpose for asking these questions needs not be so that you can give a yea or nay to your son's interest. Instead, his answers might clue you into problems, if any exist.

Resistance training, strength training, and weight training all relate to the use of free weights and/or weight machines to increase muscular strength and muscular endurance. Weight and power lifting involve the use of free weights (usually heavier than those used in weight training). Some of the major lifts engaged in during weight and power lifting can cause injury, especially if the athlete is not physically mature enough to handle the movement and/or weight. Proper technique is also very important for injury prevention and for maximum results — no matter what the age of the lifter is.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that:

  • children be well supervised by qualified adults.
  • any weight-training program be appropriate to the child's stage of maturation and assessed objectively by medical personnel. (Proper bone development is one of the key factors to assess.)
  • children avoid weight lifting, power lifting, bodybuilding, and the use of maximal amounts of weight until they have met certain developmental criteria.

See the American Academy of Pediatrics position paper for more specific details on the above points.

Here's another question: Where is your son planning to lift? Supervision by a coach or athletic trainer with an academic degree in exercise physiology or a closely related field can make the activity a lot safer and much more effective. Experience working with preteens and teens, and certification from a nationally recognized organization, such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association, wouldn't hurt either. Now that physical education in many schools has finally shifted to accommodate students' total health and interests, weight-training programs are more widely available as a curriculum option. Health clubs are also providing more exercise programs designed for kids.

For sure, strength is only one component of fitness — cardiovascular endurance and flexibility are the others. Encourage your child to experience "life" sports — those that can last him a lifetime and that he can participate in with others or alone — e.g., swimming, cycling, skating, walking, etc. Team sports are also great for children because they foster camaraderie, teamwork, and the art of graceful losing, as well as winning.

Alice

October 1, 1999

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Alice, I just wanted to comment on the parent asking you if age thirteen was too young to lift weights. I myself started lifting weights at the age of eleven. I started lifting as a result of seeing...
Alice, I just wanted to comment on the parent asking you if age thirteen was too young to lift weights. I myself started lifting weights at the age of eleven. I started lifting as a result of seeing weightlifting in the Olympics in 1976. By age thirteen, I was ranked in the top three in the country for my age category. I later won the Junior Olympics three times, the Junior National Championships one time, and was picked to represent the United States in the 1983 Junior World Championships in Cairo, Egypt. I say all of this to drive home the point that weightlifting at the age of thirteen is safe. Obviously you need proper supervision, at least until you know what you are doing, but weightlifting had a great impact in my life. It taught me discipline, concentration, and self-confidence that I will carry with me for life. It never ceases to amaze me, though, how parents can deny sometimes a child the benefit of weightlifting based on some conceived chance of injury, but have no problem putting their ten-year-old on the football field where there are many times more injuries and other things to be concerned about.