I get this question all the time and I can’t believe I’m just now writing an article about it, because I believe it’s a very important question. Many of you have probably thought, “Man, I wish I would’ve gotten into strength training sooner!” I’m this exact same person. I didn’t really get seriously into strength training until the end of my junior year of high school, and I immediately regretted it, because of the instant benefits that I saw. So the question is, what’s the best age to start getting into strength training? Beginning of high school? Middle school? Elementary school?
What!?!? Elementary school, you say? That’s got to be way too young. Kids would get hurt trying to lift weights that young! I answer questions like this pretty much the same way all of the time. A) There’s never a correct age, because kids can differ so much from other kids at the same age, due to each developing very differently. B) You can get hurt from pretty much anything depending on HOW you do it, so the best piece of advice is to find coaches who will keep your kid safe and do right by him or her.
Get Them Started as Early as Possible
The best age to get your kids started in strength training is as early as they want to—not when you, as parents, want them to—when they start to pique interest. We just had a little girl start our Winter Speed and Strength Camp (Click here to learn more) at 6-years old. That’s the youngest we’ve had a kid start at Force Barbell. The main requirement for kids to begin training with us is that they have to be able to effectively communicate with a coach. If they can’t seem to effectively follow instructions and provide adequate feedback, then we’ll wait for them to socially develop a bit more before we start to train them. Some kids might be 6- or 12-years old before this maturity level hits.
With all that said, I would urge you to get your kid started in strength training as soon as possible. If they start mentioning lifting weights, I would get them to try it right away. Let them first get involved for a couple of months, and then have them assessed to determine if it’s something they’re really excited about and want to continue pursuing. An important note that I mentioned above is to make sure you find a great gym and a great coach. Make sure you find someone who will talk ad nauseam about what they’ll be having your kid do and how they’ll make it a safe learning environment. You obviously don’t want to put your kid in the hands of an irresponsible coach. And, as parents, I’m sure your intuition is pretty accurate on this point.
How to Train the Youth Athlete
Notice how I haven’t mentioned how physically developed a kid needs to be in order to start training. That’s because the mental part is more important in order for progress and development to take place. And, kids are actually more physically fit than you might think.
Training a youth athlete is actually quite simple. Kids mostly have a hard time stabilizing their bodies through various range-of-motion activities, so it’s easy to provide a challenging stimulus by having them do simple body weight drills or by just putting a little bit of weight in their hands. Generally, they fail to perform an exercise or activity due to a lack of motor development more so than their not having sufficient strength. When kids get introduced to strength training, they primarily adapt to the stimulus neurologically. Meaning, their nervous system gets more efficient at stabilizing and controlling their bodies with or without weight. This also explains why kids don’t get gigantic muscles when they start to strength train at a young age. You can’t really tell a muscular difference with young kids, because most of their adaptations occur neurologically. To give an example, the little girl who started to train with us at Force Barbell had a very hard time performing body weight lunges the first time she did them. However, with the very next set, she was performing them utterly perfectly. Her nervous system had already found the best way to accomplish a walking lunge. This isn’t to say that every kid is going to have this immediate adaptive response.
Kids also don’t get an overwhelming sense of joy from working hard. This statement actually reverses if the kid is having fun. When you get kids to have fun doing something, working hard becomes extremely easy for them. Some parents may even be reluctant to get their kids started in strength training, because they don’t think they’ll work hard at it. While this may be true, as soon as you make a drill into a game, you’ll find kids are the hardest working humans on the planet.
Still Not Convinced?
I believe it’s very important to encourage healthy behavior in kids, both mentally and physically. Introducing them to strength training at a young age can get this ball rolling sooner, rather than later. The mental and physical breakthroughs kids can see from a proper strength-training program are limitless. A well-developed strength-training program can give your kid the discipline, work ethic, responsibility, and confidence that’ll help to shape him or her into a great leader. It’s because of this that I think it can be so important to get kids started in a training regime early in life. The benefits are unlimited as they continue to navigate through life in the years to come.
Is your youth athlete ready to get started in strength training? Click the link below to learn how to get started!