Weightlifting for children, teens, and adults
© 2010 Roy Benaroch, MD
Hear me now, and listen to me later. Weightlifting isn’t just for these guys anymore. Children can do it, too.
Resistance training is the best way to increase muscle and bone strength. By adding additional resistance to ordinary movements, you can train muscles to work stronger and faster. Groups of muscles can “learn” to rely on each other more efficiently, multiplying gains. Weightlifting can increase muscle bulk, too—if that’s your goal. Weightlifting can increase muscle strength, endurance, or size, or any combination of these, depending on the style of lifting. You want to get in shape? You’d better start lifting.
Children of almost any age can also lift weights, though they need to be realistic about what they can gain. Before puberty, muscles will not grow (or “hypertrophy”) even with weightlifting. A pre-pubertal boy, no matter what he does in the weight room, isn’t going to “bulk up.” Neither will a young girl. However, school-aged boys and girls can benefit from a reasonable weightlifting program, increasing muscle strength and coordination. For these younger children, it’s best to plan an exercise routine that mixes muscle groups to avoid over-use injuries. Don’t let them just work on one exercise, over and over. Also, younger children should aim for relatively low weights and high repetitions per set, at least 8-15. Children should learn new exercises with no weights whatsoever, and add weight just 1-2 pounds at a time. This helps prevent injuries by ensuring good technique.
Once a child enters puberty, increased hormones will allow muscle bulking and hypertrophy, especially in boys. If bulk is a main goal at this age, aim for somewhat higher weights and lower reps, but no fewer than 5 per set. If a weight is too heavy to do 5 repetitions, back off to a lower weight.
Once puberty is complete, any safe weightlifting program is reasonable. However, it’s never a good idea to try to do an absolute, maximal load—many injuries occur this way. Anyone lifting heavier weights needs to work with a spotter in a public place, rather than alone in the basement.
Additional weightlifting tips for any age:
- For the best overall fitness, alternate weightlifting with cardio work.
- Weightlifting should never be done every single day. Rest days are essential for safety, but also for muscle repair and growth that is essential to improving strength.
- Trying to get the most out of a weightlifting plan? Get extra sleep—that’s when muscles grow.
- A diet rich in lean, complete protein is a good idea, but extra protein supplement powders will not help anyone who already has a good diet.
- Warming up is essential. Get your heart pumping and muscles warmed up before lifting. A cooldown afterwards is also a good idea.
- Weights aren’t toys. Work with a trainer to learn good technique.
If your children are interested in taking up weightlifting as a hobby, think about doing it together. Go to the gym and work with as a team. You’ll all get more done—and you won’t be as tempted to skip your workout on inevitable “feeling lazy” days. It’s time to pump you up!