Parenting: Is weight training safe for kids?

March 5, 2012 3:17:12 PM PST
When I work out with dumbbells, my 10-year-old son, Nicholas, likes to do the same - with lighter weights, of course.

However, I used to wonder if he were too young - if using those weights was somehow harmful.

Well, in the right environment and with the proper supervision, strength training for kids is safe, according to most pediatricians and sports medicine physicians, like Dr. Bradley Smith.

"Children can begin exercising very young, usually once they're at the age of 6,7,8 - once they're at the age to start to begin team sports it's okay to begin some light resistance training," said Dr. Smith, with an emphasis on the "light."

Dr. Smith says children should be gradually introduced to such workouts, by first focusing on simple exercises ike push-ups and sit-ups and then, in time, switching to very light weights, resistance bands or even medicine balls. It is also important that youngsters don't do too much too soon, to avoid injuring their still-developing physiques.

"Because, just as we see in adults, kids can get over-use injuries, too. If you push them too much too fast, they can get tendonitis, they can get growth plate irritation and inflammation, they can get other injuries, too," said Dr. Smith.

Other recommendations concerning strength training for children:

1. Don't over-do it. Most experts recommend working out just a couple of days a week and not on consecutive days.

2. Make sure children are having fun. That's usually the biggest motivator in anything they do.

3. And establish realistic goals. Younger children, for instance, shouldn't strength train to build muscle, because their bodies aren't yet equipped to do so. Instead, focus on flexibility and coordination.

"So, don't do it trying to make somebody bigger, faster - so 'Little Johnny' can hit a home run at eight years old. You should be careful about what your goals are. You don't want these child athletes burning out too young," said Dr. Smith.

As with any workout involving kids, it is also be a good idea to consult a qualified individual, like a physical therapist or certified athletic trainer first.

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