Friday, October 1, 2010

At What Age Should You Start Lifting Weights?

Prior to puberty (13 or 14 years of age), most youngsters lack the muscular and skeletal development required to safely participate in a vigorous weight training program. This does not mean, however, that they should not engage in strength training activities.

Children as young as seven who can follow directions, use correct exercise technique and have discipline, can improve muscular strength and endurance by doing callisthenic-type exercises.

Regardless of age, the first year of formalized training should be to learn correct exercise technique and develop a general fitness base.

Exercises should be fun and include activities for the total body using only body weight as resistance. Children should workout three times per week and do 1x 10-15 reps of jumping jacks, push ups, pull-ups, dips, sit-ups, squats, lunges, step-ups, step-downs, etc. to strengthen the body core (legs, hips, abdomen and back). They should also learn basic running mechanics and play simple games involving starts, stops, relays, shuttles, hopping, jumping, skipping, swinging and throwing to improve agility, balance and coordination (ABC). Keep the volume low. Over training can cause a loss of interest and/or injury.

At 9-10 years of age, most children are physically ready to begin training with light external resistance. Start with DBs. Do 1x 10x5 lb for the hips and legs and 1x 10x2 lb for the upper body. Keep the exercises simple and monitor how the child tolerates the stresses of training.

Do a total body program using DB squat, step-up and lunge for the legs; DB bench press, arm curl, triceps kickback and forearm exercises for the upper body and MD ball swings and twists for the trunk. Gradually build to 2x 10-15 with 1-10 lb resistance. Introduce squat and touch (SAT), push up plus, simple plyometric drills (tuck, pike and split jump), backward skips, backward runs and moderate intensity games and relays for ABC.

The 11-13 year-old group should continue the basic exercises using light resistance and be introduced to more advanced exercises (lat pulls, leg press, leg curl, leg extension, calf raise, rows and shrugs) with little or no resistance. Add MD ball throws and sit-ups for the trunk. Run forward and backwards and laterally, do plyometrics (hops and jumps), play games and run relays for ABC. Start with 2x10 and build to 2x15).

Add sport-specific exercises and increase the volume of training at 14-15 years of age. Start with 2x10 and build to 3x10. Introduce walking, lateral and crossover lunges, power step-ups and box crossovers for the legs. Do bench, incline press and/or flys for the chest, rows for the back and back squats and lunges for the legs. Hop 1-2 times before doing MD ball throws to strengthen the trunk. Do agility ladders, run 1.5 miles and do sprints and interval runs on alternate days.

By age 16, most athletes are ready for entry level adult programs, but only if they have gained a basic level of training experience. Start with higher volume - lower intensity work and gradually build to lower volume - higher intensity work. Begin with 3x10. Gradually add resistance and build to 3x6. When they can do 3x6, reduce the weight until they can do 3x10 and gradually build to 3x6 with a heavier weight. Avoid max or near-max lifts until age 18 or older. For max safety, avoid training with loads that cannot be lifted at least six times. Continue to do distance, sprint, interval, plyometric, abdominal and ABC work.

Children are not miniature adults and therefore should not use programs designed for adults. They lack the physical development, emotional maturity and training background to safely perform adult- orientated programs.

Gene Coleman