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Resistance Training for Children, Yes or No?

November 12, 2014

I am a Mom of a 12-year-old girl, who wants to do resistance training. I am not sure if she is too young.


As of this year, 2014, the British Journal of Sports Medicine  published a groundbreaking article entitled Position Statement on Youth Resistance Training: the 2014 International Consensus, which I saw presented by one of its principle authors, Dr. Avery Faigenbaum from the College of New Jersey at the Annual ACSM Health and Fitness Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, earlier this month.  I am going to give you a summary of the most relevant parts of the article:


First of all, what exercises qualify as resistance training?  Resistance training exercises are all of the exercises that put a body weight or external load on the body.  Some examples of body weight resistance exercises are push-ups, planks, pull-ups, and body weight squats.  The best known types of equipment that count as external load on the body are barbells, dumbbells, medicine balls, kettlebells, resistance bands, battling ropes, sandbags, sandbells, and waterbells.


There are a lot of myths surrounding resistance training for children under age 13, and I am about to dispel the most important myths:

1. Resistance training has been shown to cause NO damage to the growth plate and does NOT stunt long bone growth.  In fact, resistance training has been shown, scientifically, to improve bone density in children.

2. Resistance training is not dangerous.  In fact, children who do resistance training are at a significantly lowered risk for sports-related injuries because of improved reflexes, muscular strength, bone strength, and coordination.

3. Even very heavy weightlifting is safe for children as young as age five, up to 95% of a child’s one repetition maximum, or the amount of weight that causes muscle failure after a single lift.


It must be noted, however, that children who have not yet hit puberty will not experience much muscle hypertrophy, or muscle fiber thickness.  However, this will be the case in adults as well, because the specific hypertrophy training zone is so narrow and elusive that even experienced bodybuilders struggle to increase muscle size.  This should NOT be a deterrent to resistance training, however, for anyone of any age.

However, as a pediatric fitness specialist and a teacher, I must insist that all and every exercise experience that a child has, whether it is in the realm of resistance training, cardiovascular exercise, or organized sports, it must be FUN.  The most common reason that teenagers give for not wanting to exercise is unpleasant experiences with exercise when they were younger.  We’re in this for the long haul: fitness is a lifetime’s work.


By Energetic Juniors trainer Christine Washburn, ACSM CPT/CIFT