Strength Training: First With Kids - Vermont Children's Hospital, Fletcher Allen

Parents have been pressing me recently to comment on whether I think it is safe for older children and teenagers to do strength training. Well, let me see if I can raise a few points about this issue.

Strength training increases the amount of muscle mass in the body by making muscles work harder than they’re used to. It can result in increased endurance and strength for sports and reduce injury risk from sports by half. It has also been shown to improve cardiac health, lean body mass, bone mineral density and reduce cholesterol levels. 

Is strength training safe? Generally, yes. The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses strength training for children and teens who are old enough to participate in organized sports, as long as the training is properly designed and supervised.

What does “properly designed and supervised” mean? After a pre-training physical, a trainer, coach, or physical education instructor can help your child or teen create a gradually progressive, age-appropriate routine that strengthens all major muscle groups. It is best for children to use low amounts of weight and more frequent repetitions of lifting exercises, instead of heavy load lifting and a short amount of repetitions. A warm up with stretching should be performed before strength training and a cool down stretching period should follow.

Your teenager should never lift weights without supervision or someone nearby to serve as a spotter. That person can prevent your child or teen from dropping a barbell on their chest should they become unexpectedly exhausted.

It should be noted that weightlifting, bodybuilding and powerlifting are not recommended for children since these are designed to push maximal amounts of weight and can injure growing bones, muscles and joints.

Teenagers should also avoid the use of anabolic steroids or performance enhancing drugs that are supposed to further help muscles develop. These drugs can cause mood changes, severe acne, heart disease, sterility, and even cancer—so they should not be used at all in teenagers or adults.

Hopefully tips like this will raise the bar, or is it the barbell, when it comes to strengthening your knowledge of what a healthy strength-training program is all about. 

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids.