Should Children Lift Weights?

By: Robin Reichert


Childhood obesity is a national health crisis in the United States. Studies link poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle as core causes of the issue. In addition to a healthier diet, daily exercise is an important element of staying healthy and avoiding obesity.  Children need to exercise, but should that exercise be weight training?

The experts have disagreed about whether children should lift weights.  Advocates of weight lifting for children and adolescents suggest that strength training, including lifting weights, may help improve motor skills and even reduce the risk of injury when playing sports. Strengthening the muscles that support the bones may also help reduce the risk of sports related injury. Exposing children to a variety of different types of exercises including weight lifting is beneficial, as long as age and size appropriate activities are utilized. 47

Major Concern:

• Lifting weights can cause injury to the growth plates. Growth plates are located on the ends of the long bones of the arms and legs. Lengthening of the bone occurs here.  The tendons and ligaments attach the growth plate on one bone to the growth plate on the next.  The plates themselves are weaker than the rest of the bone because these portions are more like soft tissue. Growth plate injuries are painful and may take weeks to heal. Severe trauma in this area can result in a loss of blood flow, leading to abnormal or stunted bone growth.  Adolescents are at greater risk of growth plate injury than younger children.

Many weight lifting injuries to a child’s growth plate are usually caused by trying to lift too much weight combined with poor technique.  Weight lifting training for children and adolescents can be beneficial if the proper technique is used, safety precautions established, and the amount of weight is appropriate for the size and relative strength of the child.  Younger children may benefit more from fitness games, such as tug-of-war, tag, and soccer. As children approach middle and high school weight training can be introduced as part of an overall fitness plan. 45

Safety Check:

  • Make sure that your child is ready to lift weights. If a child is able to perform push-ups and squats with proper form and without pain they are ready.
  • Ensure they understand basic safety rules, and practice proper lifting technique. Gauging your child’s readiness by testing total body strength by his or her ability to do push-ups and squats.
  • Ensure that only light-weights are used.
  • Strength training may be a better route particularly if you think that your child is not ready to lift weights or you are looking for a safer route to wellness.
  • Focus on the core, back, and hips to improve stability.
  • Focus on form.
  • Resistance exercises that utilize the child’s own body weight, such as push-ups, medicine balls, and resistance bands improve strength with less risk to the grown plates.
  • Light resistance is more beneficial than heavy resistance until your child develops the proper technique.46Benefits:
  • Increases endurance and muscle strength.  Stronger muscles will provide greater protection for the joints when your child is playing sports.
  • Strengthens bones which helps reduce the risk of injury when your child engages in other activities, such as running and jumping.
  • Helps to avoid obesity.
  • Improves self-confidence and self-esteem.

There is plenty of time for kids to get into weight lifting. Encourage activities that build strength and then explore weight lifting as the next step towards wellness for them.