Let's be real here, wondering if your kid is too young to start lifting is not a commonly asked question, especially in the U.S. where we are struggling to battle an obesity epidemic. We live in a day and age much different than our parents, where childhood obesity has increased 3 fold since the 1970's to a dramatic point where now one in five kids are obese (CDC, 2017). Parents, have you raised your eyebrows at this fact? You know as well as I do that this is not okay! Your little one is made to move not sit in front of a screen, and neither are you. If weight is something you struggle with as well, from the eyes of someone who is not a mother yet, it is important for you to be healthy for you and those you love, but it seems to me that it then becomes exponentially important to be healthy for the little life that looks up to you. That being said, there is an absolute NEED for kids to be active, and the beautiful part of childhood is that they are in a phase of their lives where they can try everything out!
The bottom line, activity comes in different shapes and form and it doesn't matter which one a child enjoys, just that they find something that they love to do that involves movement. Parents and siblings are very influential in an adolescents life, so if big brother, sister, or mom/dad are going to the gym, little 10 year old Chaunice might want to come along. This raises the question initially brought up, how young is too young to start lifting? Will it cause stunted growth or increase risk of injury because their bodies aren't mature enough yet to handle the extra stress of added weight? The contrary is actually true, and there is an enormous amount of research both in study and application to back this up.
Time to nerd out:
To better understand this, think of throwing an object. You’ve probably thrown with your dominant arm hundreds of times, but what happens when you try throwing with your non-dominant arm?
Now, there is some common sense that comes along with this. If things are taught and done the right way, your kiddo will come out for the better; however, the risk stands that if they are improperly taught or unsupervised, they could obviously end up hurting themselves. There are great programs out there to help with this, for example CrossFit Kids has been around since 2004 and works with two different age groups (4-6 year olds and 7-12 year olds). Experts in fitness appropriately scale movements to the age as the National Institute of Health recommends that kids do not work with weight until they are at least 8 years old. Thus, the younger kids will learn how to properly do basic movement patterns such as squatting, running, lunging, push ups, etc. and the older kids will work with light weights that do not fully tax muscles. Most importantly, they are learning how to do movements relevant to life properly (think good posture, strong knees, smooth running form, etc.)!
Finally, your kiddo doesn't necessarily need a physical exam like an adult would to participate in an exercise program, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (2008), “a pre-training medical examination is not mandatory for apparently healthy children; however, all participants should be screened for an injury or illness that may limit or prevent safe participation in a resistance training program.” If you are looking into enlisting the help of a trainer or exercise program for your child, be sure to do your research. Is the trainer or program well versed in proper exercise technique, will they communicate patiently and effectively so your child understands the movements, and is the environment fun and something they will look forward to? The most important thing is that the child sees an activity as "play". For some, this may be going to the gym with mom or dad, for others this may be just playing at the park!
Baechle, T. & Earle, R. (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd Edition. National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Coyle, D. (2009). The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born, it’s Grown. Here’s How. New York, NY: Bantam Dell.
Healthy Schools. (2017, January 25). Retrieved August 16, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm
Silverman, L. (2012, September 24). Is CrossFit Training Good For Kids? Retrieved August 16, 2017, from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/09/25/158652017/is-crossfit-training-good-for-kids