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Strength Training for Children

What do you think of when you hear the words weightlifting or strength training: Arnold Schwarzeneggar, the "Rock," Mr. "T," or Jonny Bravo? Just how did they get those big muscles?

The muscles in your body do a pretty good job when you use them for easy stuff, like picking up a pencil or walking across the street. But what about using them for harder stuff, like lifting a backpack full of schoolbooks, sprinting the 100 meters or dunking a basketball? That's where strength training comes in: it makes your muscles get bigger and stronger. For the girls out there, don't worry, you can get a lot stronger without getting bigger muscles - but more on that later.

Getting stronger can mean two things, lifting a heavy weight one time (absolute strength) or lifting a moderate weight many times (strength endurance). An example of absolute strength is the weight lifting done at the Olympics. The lifter tries to lift the weight one time, either he or she (yes, girls compete in weightlifting) lifts the weight or he or she doesn't. An example of strength endurance is a sport like rowing. The athletes pull the oars through the water, which takes tremendous strength, and they keep going until the race is over which takes tremendous endurance.

There are a few things that you should know about strength training. First, it is very safe. As long as you have a good strength coach showing you what to do, the chance of injury is very small. As a matter of fact, one of the best ways to prevent injuries in sports is to strength train, especially for girls. Strength training is very important for girls for another reason - it is the best way to build strong bones. And don't worry about the big muscles - girls will get big muscles only if a girl does vigorous weightlifting for many years. Weightlifting can give you that "toned" look if you workout hard enough. For you guys, it can give you that "ripped" look. It is also great for helping you lose weight. One of the best things about strength training is the confidence it builds. You will feel much better when you get stronger. When combined with flexibility, agility and aerobic training, it will make you a better athlete.

So, how old should you be before you can start? If you are old enough to play sports, than you are old enough to strength train. You must start slowly and learn the proper technique of lifting the weight from a certified strength coach. Also important is learning proper posture. You can't slouch and lift weights!

When we talk about strength training we need to understand a few terms. A repetition or rep is the number of times the weight is lifted. A group of reps is called a set. Say you lift a 20-pound weight 10 times. Then you put it down for a minute and lift it again 20 times. You would say you did two sets of 10 reps. A workout or training session would be doing different lifts for a certain number of sets and reps. The last term is called a spotter. This is the person that watches you do the lift and is there to help if you can't lift the weight. You must ALWAYS workout with a spotter.

When you start a strength-training program, you must start slowly. In the beginning, the strength portion of a workout should be about 30 minutes long, two to three times per week. Don't do strength workouts two days in a row. Start by warming-up - take a five-minute walk and then gently stretch your muscles. Then perform one to two sets of 10 to 15 reps of five or six exercises that target the different muscles in your body (legs, back, chest, arms, shoulders, abs). The weight should be lifted slowly and in control. Don't hold your breath. Again, a qualified strength coach should supervise all strength workouts.

"...the incidence of overuse injuries sustained by young athletes could be reduced by 50% if more emphasis was placed on the development of fundamental fitness abilities before sports participation." "...the National Athletic Trainers' Association suggests that high school athletes engage in conditioning activities at least six weeks before the start of practice."

Faigenbaum, A., Schram, J. Can Resistance Training Reduce Injuries in Youth Sports? Strength and Conditioning Journal 26(3) p18. 2004.

"Participation in intercollegiate athletics involves unavoidable exposure to an inherent risk of injury." (p. 4)

"Preseason Preparation: The student-athlete should be protected from premature exposure to the full rigors of sport. Preseason conditioning should provide the student-athlete with optimal readiness by the first practice." (p. 6)

NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook 2005-2006

For more information on a safe, supervised strength training program for kids see Maryland Sports Performance located in Montgomery County, Maryland and convenient to Rockville, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Potomac and Kensington.

Good Luck and Get Strong!




PARENTS, READ How To Grow A Super Athlete - N.Y. Times, 3/4/07


Parents and coaches continue to express concern about the suitability of strength training for children and adolescents despite the mounting evidence that it is both safe and effective. Let's address these concerns head on:

  1. Lifting weights can damage the growth plates of youngsters. In fact, such damage has never been documented with youth strength training programs which are administered and supervised by qualified professionals (CSCS certification by the NSCA). Studies of these types of programs show a very low incidence of any type of injury (Strength and Conditioning Journal 1996:18:62-75). Most injuries occur when the program is unsupervised, equipment is used improperly, attempts are made to lift too much weight and technique is poor. Lifting weights is actually a big plus to the bones of youngsters. "There is good reason to believe that the more bone mass you accumulate during childhood, the higher your eventual peak bone mass and the lower your chances of suffering osteoporotic fractures in later life." Youngsters practicing gymnastics, weight-training and other demanding sports have been shown to accumulate more bone than their less active peers (Peak Performance, December 2004, pp. 11-12).
  2. The forces caused by weight training are so great that they will cause injuries. This is a concern I hear from not only parents and coaches, but physicians as well. My first response is always, "Did you fail physics class?" The reality is that the forces placed on a child's musculoskeletal system while playing sports or even recreational physical activity (playground) far exceed that of any during strength training - even if the training were to include a maximal lift attempt (which it should not!).
  3. Kids will not derive any benefit from strength training before puberty. Children can gain strength with proper training before puberty (Strength and Conditioning Journal 1996:18:62-75). Vertical jump, standing long jump, sprint and agility times all improve in this age group with proper training. In addition, strength training is recommended as part of a pre-conditioning program. Studies show that the incidence of overuse injuries sustained by young athletes could be reduced by 50% if more emphasis was placed on the development of fundamental fitness abilities before sports participation. Relative newcomers to a sport are significantly MORE likely to be injured than individuals who have been training for many years (American Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 16(3), pp. 285-294, 1988, and also Archives of Internal Medicine, vol. 149 (11), pp. 2565-2568, 1989). The 2003-2004 NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook states: "Preseason Preparation: The student-athlete should be protected from premature exposure to the full rigors of sport. Preseason conditioning should provide the student-athlete with optimal readiness by the first practice."

National Strength and Conditioning Association Position Statement on Youth Resistance Training

  1. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program is relatively safe for youth.
  2. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program can enhance the muscular strength and power of youth.
  3. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program can improve the cardiovascular risk profile of youth.
  4. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program can improve motor skill performance and may contribute to enhanced sports performance of youth.
  5. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program can increase a young athlete’s resistance to sportsrelated injuries.
  6. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program can help improve the psychosocial well-being of youth.
  7. A properly designed and supervised resistance training program can help promote and develop exercise habits during childhood and adolescence.

General Youth Resistance Training Guidelines:

  1. Provide qualified instruction and supervision
  2. Ensure the exercise environment is safe and free of hazards
  3. Start each training session with a 5- to 10-minute dynamic warm-up period
  4. Begin with relatively light loads and always focus on the correct exercise technique
  5. Perform 1–3 sets of 6–15 repetitions on a variety of upper- and lower-body strength exercises
  6. Include specific exercises that strengthen the abdominal and lower back region
  7. Focus on symmetrical muscular development and appropriate muscle balance around joints
  8. Perform 1–3 sets of 3–6 repetitions on a variety of upper- and lower-body power exercises
  9. Sensibly progress the training program depending on needs, goals, and abilities
  10. Increase the resistance gradually (5–10%) as strength improves
  11. Cool-down with less intense calisthenics and static stretching
  12. Listen to individual needs and concerns throughout each session
  13. Begin resistance training 2–3 times per week on nonconsecutive days
  14. Use individualized workout logs to monitor progress
  15. Keep the program fresh and challenging by systematically varying the training program
  16. Optimize performance and recovery with healthy nutrition, proper hydration, and adequate sleep
  17. Support and encouragement from instructors and parents will help maintain interest

Code of Ethics

  1. Strength and conditioning professionals should not practice nor condone discrimination.
  2. Strength and conditioning professionals should not condone, engage in illegal behavior or defend unsportsmanlike conduct or practices.
  3. Strength and conditioning professionals should refrain from using techniques and practices in which repeated acts of negligence would result in injury to an individual.
  4. Strength and conditioning professionals should use care to be truthful and not misleading when stating their education, training, experience, and involvement of NSCA and shall not misrepresent or misuse their affiliation with the NSCA for unwarranted favors-monetary or otherwise.

National Strength and Conditioning Association Position Statement: Youth Resistance Training

American Academy of Pediatrics Position Statement: Strength Training by Children and Adolescents

  1. Strength training programs for preadolescents and adolescents can be safe and effective if proper resistance training techniques and safety precautions are followed.
  2. Preadolescents and adolescents should avoid competitive weight lifting, power lifting, body building, and maximal lifts until they reach physical and skeletal maturity.
  3. When pediatricians are asked to recommend or evaluate strength training programs for children and adolescents, the following issues should be considered:
    1. Before beginning a formal strength training program, a medical evaluation should be performed by a pediatrician. If indicated, a referral may be made to a sports medicine physician who is familiar with various strength training methods as well as risks and benefits in preadolescents and adolescents.
    2. Aerobic conditioning should be coupled with resistance training if general health benefits are the goal.
    3. Strength training programs should include a warm-up and cool-down component.
    4. Specific strength training exercises should be learned initially with no load (resistance). Once the exercise skill has been mastered, incremental loads can be added.
    5. Progressive resistance exercise requires successful completion of 8 to 15 repetitions in good form before increasing weight or resistance.
    6. A general strengthening program should address all major muscle groups and exercise through the complete range of motion.
    7. Any sign of injury or illness from strength training should be evaluated before continuing the exercise in question.

American Academy of Pediatrics Position Statement: Strength Training by Children and Adolescents


"Generally speaking, if boys and girls are ready for sports participation they are ready for some type of strength training. Many seven- and eight-year-old children have benefited from strength training. Younger children, also, may participate in strength-building activities if they can perform the exercises correctly and follow directions. However, it is important to remember that no matter how big or strong a child is, adult strength training programs and philosophies should not be imposed on children. The goal of youth strength training programs should be to enhance the musculoskeletal strength of children and teenagers while exposing them to a variety of safe, effective and fun training methods.

Different training programs and many types of equipment—from lightweight medicine balls to child-size weight machines—have proven to be safe and effective. While the optimal combination of sets and repetitions has not yet been determined for children and teenagers, beginning with one set of 10 to 15 repetitions on several upper and lower body exercises is effective. Depending on individual goals and the time available for training, additional sets and exercises can be performed. It must be emphasized that the focus of youth strength training programs should be on learning proper exercise technique and following safe training procedures—not on how much weight can be lifted."

From "Sensible Guidelines for Parents, Teachers and Coaches By Dr. Avery Faigenbaum University of Massachusetts-Boston"

Also see

"Strength Training for Children and Adolescents: What Can A Physician Recommend?"