I am often asked by both young patients and their parents if children can participate in weight lifting and strengthening exercises. I think the appropriate term is strength training and conditioning, rather than weight lifting, which connotes competition and the need for heavier and heavier weights. When done appropriately, strength training and conditioning is great for kids of all ages, and really encourages being physically fit.

Weightlifting is not appropriate for a growing child as it can put too much strain on the tendons and cartilage. This is especially true when kids become competitive about lifting bigger and bigger weights at the risk of long-term injury. Allowing children to weight lift in hopes of “bulking up” or “building the biggest muscles” before pubertal development and their growth spurt is inappropriate. All of that can be deferred for the post pubertal athlete.

On the other hand, an age appropriate strength training and conditioning program may actually be protective of a child’s joints by increasing their muscle strength and their endurance. By participating in supervised and structured strengthening programs, a child as young as eight may improve their endurance, body awareness and balance, all of which are beneficial.

A strength-training program can be done without weights, as in resistance training, by simply using the child’s body weight. Examples of this would be abdominal crunches, push-ups and pull-ups. These are great ideas for the younger children. For older children free weights or resistance bands may be added. Parents or coaches who are familiar with the use of free weights should always supervise. Start out with lighter weights, and make sure that the child can do at least 10 repetitions with the weight, if not, drop to a lower free weight. Have the adult watch the child for form and technique and supervise any increase in weights or repetitions. There are also many programs through local gyms and YMCA’s tailored just for kids to participate in strength training.

When beginning a conditioning program encourage your child to have a warm up period, with a little aerobic activity like walking or running as this his will help to warm the muscles and prevent injury. After the strength training it is equally important to have a cool down period with gentle stretching. Many children enjoy working out with their parents and this can become a family activity (we can all use the exercise) to promote coordination, healthy bones, joints, cholesterol and blood pressure. Most importantly make it fun!

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.