Good Morning Folks!
I often get asked, at what age should “kids” begin a weight training program. As with most topics regarding such a broad population, the answer is, unfortunately, it depends.
However, thanks to recognized and respected agencies like the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), of which I am certified through and a member of, there are guidelines that aid professionals like me and parents like you (especially those of my two nephews) to better protect and care for our Future Fit population.
One of the most important things for everyone to remember is that the skeletons in young children, and even young adults, are immature and don’t actually fully develop until somewhere between the ages of 14 and 22 years old. With that in mind, that population is more vulnerable to overuse injuries like Osgood Schlatter disease (excessive knee pain in adolescents), or worst case scenario, growth plate damage.
Therefore, it is important for this population, as with all “trainees”, to properly warm up prior to “working out”. Next, a program should be implemented that focuses on the entire body. Beginners should do one or two sets of 10 to15 repetitions; teens with some experience should perform two to three sets of eight to 12; and advanced teens should do two to three sets of six to 10 reps.
Children also tend to get heat exhaustion and heat stroke more easily than adults, as they don’t sweat as much. Therefore, it is important to ensure they are hydrated before, during and immediately after their workout. Furthermore, since their hormonal system isn’t yet at fully capacity (Thank God, right mothers?) make sure they get 24 to 48 hours of rest in between training sessions.
I know we now live in a very competitive world. Kids are taking fuller class schedules, higher level courses, being involved in more extracurricular activities and the desire to be the biggest, strongest and fastest in every area (not only in the gymnasium or workout room) is of “paramount importance”. However, initially, the focus of any training program (be it with children or adults) should be on form and technique, not on “how much can you bench”.
With that, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states a teen’s nutrition requirements should not be altered in order to build muscle. For active teens, the USDA recommends they consume between 2,000 and 2,400 calories a day for females and between 2,600 and 3,200 for males. Between 45 and 65 percent of these calories should come from carbohydrates, 25 to 35 percent from fats, and approximately 10 to 20 percent from proteins.
One final thought…when it comes to your kids (or my nephews), remember there is a difference between “strength” training and “weight” training. Kids as young as seven or eight years old can do STRENGTH-training activities like push-ups and sit-ups. These exercises can help kids build a sense of balance, control and awareness of their bodies, as well as, go a long way in developing their self confidence. But remember to follow the frequency guidelines listed above!