When can a child begin strength training?

During childhood, kids improve their body awareness, control and balance through active play. As early as age 7 or 8, however, strength training can become a valuable part of an overall fitness plan — as long as the child is mature enough to follow directions and practice proper technique and form.

If your child expresses an interest in strength training, remind him or her that strength training is meant to increase muscle strength and endurance. Bulking up is something else entirely — and most safely done after adolescence.

You might also check with your child's doctor for the OK to begin a strength training program, especially if your child has a known or suspected health problem — such as a heart condition, high blood pressure or a seizure disorder.

What's the best way to start a strength training program for kids?

A child's strength training program isn't necessarily a scaled-down version of what an adult would do. Keep these general principles in mind:

  • Seek instruction. Start with a coach or personal trainer who has experience with youth strength training. The coach or trainer can create a safe, effective strength training program based on your child's age, size, skills and sports interests. Or enroll your child in a strength training class designed for kids.
  • Warm up and cool down. Encourage your child to begin each strength training session with five to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity, such as walking, jogging in place or jumping rope. This warms the muscles and prepares them for more vigorous activity. Gentle stretching after each session is a good idea, too.
  • Keep it light. Kids can safely lift adult-size weights, as long as the weight is light enough. In most cases, one set of 12 to 15 repetitions is all it takes. The resistance doesn't have to come from weights, either. Resistance tubing and body-weight exercises, such as push-ups, are other effective options.
  • Stress proper technique. Rather than focusing on the amount of weight your child lifts, stress proper form and technique during each exercise. Your child can gradually increase the resistance or number of repetitions as he or she gets older.
  • Supervise. Adult supervision is an important part of youth strength training. Don't let your child go it alone.
  • Rest between workouts. Make sure your child rests at least one full day between exercising each specific muscle group. Two or three strength training sessions a week are plenty.
  • Keep it fun. Help your child vary the routine to prevent boredom.

Results won't come overnight. Eventually, however, your child will notice a difference in muscle strength and endurance — which might fuel a fitness habit that lasts a lifetime.

Jan. 18, 2012 See more In-depth