Children & Weight Training

Children, adolescents and weight training

Our physiotherapy consultant gives fascinating and much needed guidance re children and young people weight training

The following advice is provided as a guide to give parents and coaches an understanding of the issues. It is written in a Q&A style for easy digestion and the information presented is provided following review of the literature, of the guidelines provided in professional sport for example by the Rugby Football Union and from an experienced physiotherapist with a special interest in this area.

Is there a benefit to young children weight training ?

  • A compelling body of scientific evidence indicates that children and adolescents can significantly increase their strength— providing that the resistance training program is of sufficient intensity, volume, and duration
  • Children as young as 5 and 6 years have benefited from regular participation in a resistance training program – Anessi et al 2005,
  • Without adequate levels of circulating testosterone to stimulate increases in muscle size children appear to experience more difficulty increasing their muscle mass consequent to a resistance training program (up to 20 weeks) as compared with older populations Ridjers et al 2007

It appears that neural adaptations and possibly intrinsic muscle adaptations are primarily responsible for training-induced strength gains during preadolescence

Is weight training associated with greater risk of injury than for example contact sports ?

  • Appropriate strength-training programs have no apparent adverse effect on linear growth, growth plates, or the cardiovascular system Faigenbaum  AD 2000,  Stricker  PR 2002, Weltman 1986
  • There is broad agreement regarding the safety of properly controlled strength training in children and adolescents by the appropriate authorities AAP , ACSM, NSCA & RFU

What guidelines are there available ?

The American Academy of paediatrics gave the following guidelines in 2008

  • Pre – participation screening advised
  • Education re technique , progression of protocols, supervision, training goals, maximum weights must be provided
  • Weight training should not proceed prior to age 8 yrs as balance and postural control is not achieved until this age
  • A working guideline is to avoid explosive lifts / techniques unless involved in olympic weight lifting where it is a requirement – as technique difficult to maintain and rapid loading may pre-dispose injury.
  • Proper resistance techniques and safety precautions should be followed so that strength-training programs for preadolescents and adolescents are safe and effective
  • Preadolescents and adolescents should avoid power lifting, body building, and maximal lifts until they reach physical and skeletal maturity
  • athletes should not use performance-enhancing substances or anabolic steroids.

The American College of Sports Medicine were in broad agreement and added

  • The ACSM are broadly in alignment – they also advise that Adult strength training guidelines and programs should not be applied to children.
  • A child should not do spine-loading exercises (e.g., a squat under a bar) or engage in bodybuilding due to its risks to the growth plates and spine.
  • Under no circumstances should a child who has not reached skeletal maturity (i.e., Tanner stage 5; typically at age 15 for girls and age 17 for boys) perform a maximum weight lift or any ballistic movements seen in Olympic weightlifting and power lifting.

What about training session content guidelines ?

  • On starting training, low resistance exercise to define technique
  • When 8 – 15 reps can be performed reasonable to add weight in 10 % increments
  • Increased reps for endurance are acceptable
  • All muscle groups should be targeted including core
  • Work outs should be 20-30 mins 2 – 3 x per week, no additional benefit shown for 4> x per week
  • Proper supervision defined as 1:10 ratio
  • 10 – 15 min warm up / down

The ACSM provided the following guidelines ;

  • Example of a program: One should start with a basic program for two to four weeks that consists of
  • one or two sets of each exercise.
  • Warm-up (5 minutes) Leg Extension (10-15 reps max)
  • Leg Press (10-15 repetitions max) Military Press (10-15 reps max)
  • Bench Press (10-15 repetitions max) Reverse Sit-up (10-15 reps max)
  • Leg Curls (10-15 repetitions max) Bent-Leg Sit-ups (10-15 reps max)
  • Arm Curls (10-15 repetitions max) Stretch (5 minutes)

An overview was provided by the American Orthopaedic Society of Sports Medicine

  • Broadly aligned and used same database as the NSCA and AAP
  • They note the AAP remains hesitant to support participation by children who are skeletally immature and is opposed to childhood involvement in power lifting, body building, or use of the 1-repetition maximum lift as a way to determine gains in strength.
  • They appear to make no further comments nor have any major disagreement with the AAP or NSCA


The broad consensus is that resistance training IF properly supervised and prescribed is safe and effective. It is key that the child can demonstrate good technique in any particular exercise before load is added and must be able to maintain correct technique throughout the set.

The use of very low reps and high loads is discouraged in the skeletally immature.

Significant gains in strength and physique will only be noted in the post pubertal individuals as growth related hormones are released.

Coaches need to be aware particularly in teenage boys that there is a 2-5 year difference in the skeletal maturation rate i.e. some 16 year olds can have an 11 year old skeleton and vice versa and hence the importance of relating load to body weight and maturation.