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How Young Is Too Young To Lift Weights?

This weeks question comes in from physio, AiM therapist and soon to be qualified S&C coach Riccardo Galeotti all the way from the land of down under.


Riccardo puts out a lot of good information on his social medias, search his name.

But first, to his question:


“Hey Dave,
One question about training young kids - how quick and fast should they start with weight, sets and duration ? Thinking more about growth plates etc ?
Regards,
Riccardo”

Duuuude!! That's a question!


And one that's been coming up while chatting to one of the coaches at my kids hurling team of late.


The topic of kids lifting weights is a strange one, and one that has caused a fair bit of controversy over the years.


Should kids lift?

Is it dangerous for them?

Does it stunt their growth?

Does it damage growth plates?

In short, the growth plate issue holds about as much water as knees don't go past toes or

spines shouldn't flex.


I’ve spent a bit of time looking for evidence that lifting weights can stunt growth as a result of growth plate damage and it just doesn’t exist.

Unlike the bad science that propagated the knees shouldn’t pass the toes myth, or the misinterpretations of research that seem have lead to the anti-flexion “movement” for spines, the growth plate issues seems to be a product of simple fear based over caution.


Can growth plates in young bones be damaged?

Absolutely

Can this lead to a stunting of growth?

Yes.

In fact as a teen I had a buddy with one forearm significantly underdeveloped because he had fractured his growth plates, the parts of the long bones that allows them lengthen as you grow.


However, in terms of forces going through the skeleton, a kid jumping off a wall, or even a quick change of direction on the sports field / playground, is going to put more stress through the system than lifting a weight will.


Which was the case with my buddy, in case you were interested, he broke his arm in a bad fall. Nothing to do with any training he did.


The S&C advice over the last few decades for an athlete starting plyometric training is to first attain a 1.5xBW back squat.


This is to show that the athlete has the structural capacity for the plyometric work, which if they have a good squat, we can assume they have.


This requirement is getting push back, as it’s simply over cautious and it’s perfectly safe to slowly, gradually ramp up into a plyometric program without any squat numbers.


And if you watch kids in the playground, what are you likely to see?

Running, jumping, hopping, bounding, direction changes, level changes.

Essentially a whole lot of plyometrics.


So, is it safe for kids to lift?

Absolutely, assuming they are well taught and progressed responsibly.


To that end we can put rough guidelines around rough age brackets.


Something like this:


Pee-wee: <8yrs - no external loading. Games, Quadrupedal drills, movement skills, tumbling, jumping, balance, coordination.


8-12 - Bodyweight strength. Push ups, pull ups, squats, all manner of lunges, basic gymnastic exercises


12-14 - Introduce external load. Teach technique, no need to focus on load. Good hinge, good squat, basic oly variants, keep doing bodyweight stuff.


15+ - All bets are off, load them up! Power cleans, squats, Bent over rows.

Bodybuilding/Powerlifting/OlyLifting whatever floats their boat or is congruent with their athletic goals. Never stop doing bodyweight and basic gymnastic skills.


Now, with kids, the strength to weight ratio is off the charts. Once they move well enough and show the discipline to remain focussed, this can be capitalised on to a point. So yes, we can load up 10yr olds, but I don't think they need it.

I genuinely think younger kids should be doing gymnastics type work to develop proprioception and coordination rather than just strength and muscle mass.


That 8-12 range is the time to keep them doing games, so any strength training should look like a combination of the worlds strongest man, ninja warrior and an 80's Jackie Chan training montage rather than structured linear gym work.

They don’t need periodised, structured training. They need to learn their body and build confidence.

Kids that develop a large movement vocabulary, balance and coordination tend to maintain a level of natural athleticism, adaptability and robustness throughout their lives.


In all my years as a coach, the easiest adults to train all had martial arts, dance or gymnastics backgrounds. The trickier adults were those from activities with lower movement vocabularies.

And those who specialise early, often, but not always, are the guys who get hurt or worse, get bored and give up!


Now when kids hit puberty, their anabolic hormone profile goes through the roof. This absolutely should be capitalised on as the only way we get this profile again in adulthood is through chemical enhancement.

Build muscle, maintain movement and coordination, but get them big and powerful. Hopefully setting up a habit for life.


This habit is an oft overlooked and important element.


A teen training hard with good training partners under a coach they respect will likely continue to train or come back to it later in life.

Most kids stop being super competitive when college, work, family requirements kick in, their focus shifts.

But those who have had a good experience of training growing up, they are the ones that even if they never return to sport, they get in the gym and get after it.


Now, if you found this interesting or informative, feel free to share it on.

If you have feedback, or wish to comment, hit reply and do so, I'm always happy to hear from you.

And finally, what are your questions?

What would you like to me to write about in future newsletters?

Hit that reply button and ask away.


Regards

Dave Hedges

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