The medical information in this post was provided by Monica Fisher, M.D., a licensed physician and pediatrician.
Once kids start getting older, they want to start doing things that they see the older kids doing, including beginning to lift weights (especially the boys). A lot of parents are pretty wary about letting their kids start lifting weights at what they feel is a very early age.
Can a 7-year-old lift weights? If he or she is physically and emotionally ready (coordinated, follows instructions, etc.), your 7-year-old can lift weights. However, kids this age require relatively close supervision by a trainer who understands growing bones and muscles.
Once you decide that your kid is old enough or mature enough to start lifting weights, you’re going to want to do some research about what exactly “lifting weights” entails. In the remainder of the article, I’m going to go into just what I mean by “lifting weights,” as well as steps you can take to make sure your kids is as safe as possible.
When people talk about “pumping iron” or “lifting weights,” they are usually trying to refer to “strength training.”
Strength training, surprisingly, is just a way to build strength. Most kids start strength training because they want to get stronger in order to perform better in whatever sport they are a part of. Once they get out of high school, if they aren’t playing sports in college, the desire switches from performance on the field to improving their body or just working off some stress.
Once strength training becomes a habit, kids will just keep doing it as part of their routine, even if they don’t necessarily have a goal in mind. It’s a really great habit to have, as it keeps you healthy. So the sooner you allow your kid to develop that habit, the healthier they will be and the longer that will last.
Strength training is done with weights, machines, resistance bands, or just body weight.
Training with weights can improve sports performance, increase muscle growth while decreasing fat, burn more calories than other types of training, strengthen bones, and improve mental health.
Development of Bones
Bones are soft when you are first born. In fact, new born babies are born with over 300 bones. As the babies grow, their bones combine and form into the typical human skeleton. They replace the cartilage they were made of before with calcium, making them stronger.
When your bones stop growing, you have reached what is called “peak bone mass.” Generally speaking, the bigger your peak bone mass is, the better off and healthier you will be. There are diseases that will prevent your bones from growing, but that is a completely different problem, and one that neither you nor your seven year old likely have to worry about.
You can largely influence how much peak bone mass you are going to have, though the end result is genetically decided.
The best times to work on increasing your peak bone mass is in your adolescence, teens, and young adult hood. Since your bones are still young and growing, they can respond effectively and quickly to added stress.
For example, if you are raising horses, you start foals carrying pack fairly young. You don’t start them off carrying a full grown person, but you give them a little pack to carry around for a while. Once they seem to have that down, you slowly add weight and time, gradually strenthening their bones. Eventually, when the horses are grown, they are able to carry full grown adults for a whole day.
The same thing applies to your bones. If you start out strengthening yourself- or your seven year old’s- bones early and slowly, the bones will grow to be strong and healthy. They will have a larger peak bone mass.
As you increase the training on the bone, you end up strengthening it, not hurting it. That’s one reason why you should worry about stunting your kid’s growth by introducing them to strength training early in life.
Horses (and kids) who start out training early have an advantage over those who didn’t start until later. They have had years to strengthen their bones and are used to the training. They will be stronger, safer, and more comfortable in whatever they have to do.
Usually, this “adding weight bit by bit” looks a lot like your child just learning how to walk and pushing things around. As they grow, they need to take in a lot of stimulus and figure out how to work their body. Once they are able to function well, you can start them out with additional training.
This doesn’t mean you have to start them on lifting weight yet. But you can introduce stretches, yoga, and body weight exercises (like push ups and sit ups). It really can be as simple as carrying wood, lawn care, and learning to put away dishes. Anything that has them use their bones under some sort of “pressure” (I know, that’s a buzz word).
Strength training at a young age is easily hid inside the word “fun.” Games like Twister or one on one basket ball are fun games the get the kids moving, growing, and strengthening.
The Right Age
Medical professionals typically agree that the right age to start strength training with weights is actually around seven or eight years old.
At around seven or eight years old, kids are starting to play sports and be more aggressively active. Their physical activity is no longer restricted to Twister, and they are out there jumping around.
Speaking of jumping, I have another reason why you shouldn’t be worried about damaging your child’s bones by starting them on strength training.
As kids run around and jump off of rocks and play ground equipment (you know how they are, no matter how many times you’ve told them that if they knock out their own teeth, you are definitely not paying for braces), they actually have an impulse going through their joints that is two to ten times their own body weight.
And since you will not be starting your kids off with lifting even one times their body weight (you’re not, right?), your kid will be alright.
As your child begins more intense exercise, it makes sense to provide them with more intense training. If you start letting them lift weights, their performance will improve drastically.
They will be starting at a time when their bones are growing, so their bones will be able to adapt to the increase in training and will be able to grow and strengthen correctly. By the time they get to high school, they will be leagues ahead of anybody who hasn’t been training for very long.
Your child will also be safer if they start strength trainer earlier. They will be comfortable around the machines and will be able to perform the exercises correctly, thus decreasing the probability of injury.
Really, in a nutshell, if you don’t let your kid strength train earlier, you’ll actually be increasing chances of injury, not decreasing. That of course, doesn’t mean that you have to let your child begin lifting weights.
There are other ways to strength train that don’t include weights, and if your child isn’t even in sports, or doesn’t want to begin lifting weights, then you don’t have to make them.
You also have to make sure that your child is mature enough to start lifting weights. They have to be able to listen to the instructor and be able to follow direction. They have to have focus in order to complete the entire weight exercise correctly and safely.
The Right Program
First thing’s first, warm up. Do some static and dynamic (still and moving, respectively) stretches to get the muscles warmed up and moving. You can also do some light jogging or some body weight exercises (like push ups, lunges, or sit ups). Anything that gets your heart rate up without being too strenuous. You don’t want to pull anything by working cold muscles too hard.
Before your child actually starts lifting any weights, you have to make sure of is that your seven year old actually knows how to perform the exercises.
My suggestion is to watch your child perform the entire set or exercise without any weight. Make sure they have the correct form and can stay focused the whole time.
Once you know your seven year old can perform the exercises correctly, you can start adding weight or resistance bands.
Start them with just a little bit of weight, or the lightest resistance band, at first. Once you are positive that they can handle the current weight, add a little bit more. You will know if the weight is too much if they arch their back or their posture suffers (even if it’s on the last rep).
It might be beneficial to play music or turn the exercise into a sort of game. My cross country couch in high school would do relays every week to keep it interesting and fun. If the workout is too boring, it is easier to have a lapse in concentration that could lead to an injury.
After the workout, be sure to let them cool down. Schedule time for a cool down in the workout, that way you’re not running out of time at the end. Cool downs typically include stretches (static and dynamic) and mild calisthenics.
Two to three workout sessions in the week are usually enough. The body, especially a seven year old body, needs a day to recover in between session. As they age, kids can start strength training every day, but their session are structured to work different muscle groups every day.
It is important to supervise the strength training as much as possible. You want to make sure that your seven year old is still demonstrating proper form and technique. We want your kid to be as safe and as strong as possible.
Very Well Fit provides a good guide for a workout plan that would address all of the needs of a seven year old.
- Choose a weight that allows at least 12 repetitions and preferably 15. This ensures the weight is light enough not to place too much stress on joints and the developing cartilage and bone, which is one of the potential risk areas for weight training for children.
- Two sets for each exercise is probably enough for younger children, and it should minimize boredom as well.
- Aim for six to 10 exercises depending on age, fitness, and maturity. Exercise number and weights can be increased gradually as children get older or stronger.
Instructors: Pick the Right One
If you won’t be training your seven year old yourself, then your’re going to need to pick the right instructor.
They need to understand that you can’t just take an adult workout plan, subtract some weight, and apply it to a seven year old. Seven year old bodies are very different from adult bodies, and they can’t do some of the exercises that adults can.
Make sure the instructor knows what they are doing. If your child is in a sport, their coach knows the best thing to do to help your child with their strength training.
It’s also good to get to know your child’s instructor well. This ensures the safety of your child and makes it easier for you to bring up any questions or concerns that you have.
Benefits of Starting Strength Training Earlier
During adolescence, kids’ bodies are able to adapt easier, and it is better on their musculoskeletal system to start strengthening earlier. There have also been studies that show that kids born in this generation are weaker than the kids from a few decades ago. So it’s good to start strengthening them earlier on. It also forms a great habit for them to continue exercising as they grow.
Learning agility work is very hard for adults, because it takes longer for our brains to develop the neural pathways responsible for muscle memory and forming habits. However, kids’ brains are much faster, and so when you start them exercising young, they will be able to form these pathways to help with with agility work.
When kids learn to exercise early, that can encourage them to continue exercising. If they don’t have a foundation in any sort of sports, then they will naturally avoid them when they find out that their peers have a foundation in sports. People don’t want to do what they are not good at. If your seven year old knows how to exercise, then they will be more willing to do it and will stick in their healthy life style.
If your child is going to start getting into strength training, now might be a good time to talk to them a little bit about steroids.
Steroid (the ones that are taken to “improve” you body) are taken by injecting them with a needing into your bloodstream. This opens you up to the possibility of diseases like HIV. Steroids are also highly addictive.
In men, steroids can cause stunted growth, kidney failure, liver damage, and heart attack or stroke.
In women, steroids can cause baldness, deepened voice, breast shrinking, and changes to the menstrual cycle.
Make sure your child understands that is is important to be strong, but they should never take steroids as a way to accomplish that goal.
Other Types of Exercise
If you don’t want your seven year old to start lifting weights, then here a few ideas of alternate options for strength training:
- Body weight exercises– basically these are weight training exercises without the weight. Do push ups instead of bench press, for example. These will prevent injuries from dropped dumbbells, at the very least.
- Yoga– this increases strength and flexibility by stretching your body (literally). There are no intensive reps or heavy weights. It’s also very calming (or so my roommate has tried to convince me on multiple occasions).
- Rock climbing or bouldering– bouldering is basically rock climbing but without the rope. You don’t get very far off of the ground, so your child will be safe. Bouldering makes you focus more on your own muscle strength while rock climbing lets you rely a little on a rope and focus on strategy and endurance.
The World’s Strongest Kid
C.J. Cummins started lifting weights around age 10. He worked hard at it, and was able to complete a clean and jerk of 200 lbs (twice his body weight) at the age of 11. By the time he was 13, he had already set a national record.
Cummins started at around the perfect time and was able to grow immensely strong without serious injuries. When you do it right, strength training can be amazing. And 7 year old kids are completely capable of doing it.
Will weight lifting make you shorter? Weight lifting strengthens bones and muscles (when done right) and will promote growth. There is no truth to the myth that weight lifting will stunt your growth.