We live in a day and age much different than our parents, in which childhood obesity has increased 3 fold since the 1970's. This means that one in five kids are dealing with not just being overweight, but having a BMI in the 95th percentile for age and sex. Most of our attention has been drawn to this topic and getting kids active in general, thus begging the question of how young is too young to start lifting?
Regardless of their present fitness state, getting kids involved in activity is a minimum requirement to building a healthy life. The next goal should be getting them involved in a structured fitness program in which they can learn how to properly move.
The activity kids do doesn't matter just as long as they enjoy it, and the beautiful part of childhood is that there are many opportunities to be active. It is imperative kids establish healthy habits like moving every day, early on.
As a parent, teacher, coach, or mentor of any sorts, the youth in our lives look up to us to model good examples for them. That being said, get moving with your kids. Don't be a shuttle or sideline parent who financially provides for, and physically transports, their kids to and from activities. Instead, take your kiddo to, and share with them, the activities you enjoy.
Picking the right programs
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 getting hurt.
Having them work with fitness professionals, so that the professional can appropriately scale movements to their age, will always be the best bet. A generally important rule in regards to this, is only body-weight until 8, as the National Institute of Health recommends that kids do not work with weight until they are at least 8 years old.
There are great programs out there to help make this easy for you as a parent, one of which is CrossFit Kids, which has been around since 2004 and works with ages as young as 3. Younger kids learn how to properly do basic movement patterns such as squatting, running, lunging, push ups, etc. and older kids will work with light weights that do not fully tax muscles.
A final note in program selection, is that the child sees an activity as "play" and something enjoyable, not as a form of punishment, which can be very counterproductive.
Enhanced Bone Density
Regular participation in an exercise program actually improves bone density in children and adolescents much in the same way it does for adults. Our bones respond in a similar fashion as our muscles when put under extra stress induced by weight bearing activities. This response increased tissue formation, i.e. stronger, more ossified bones.¹
With weight training, young athletes also are less likely to incur injuries. In fact, they are less likely to get hurt lifting (properly) than they are when playing sports, as studies by the NSCA (National Sports & Conditioning Association) show that the forces placed on a child’s joints are higher during a sport-like activity than during resistance training.²
Higher Functioning Nervous System
Resistance training better prepares a child for all types of activity. This is largely in part due to the accelerated development of the nervous system (i.e. myelin pathways) and indicates that our more "naturally" gifted athletes most likely were dabbling in all types of movements from a younger than average age.³
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?
1. Baechle, T. & Earle, R. (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd Edition. National Strength and Conditioning Association.
2. Baechle, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd Edition, 136.
3. Coyle, D. (2009). The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born, it’s Grown. Here’s How. New York, NY: Bantam Dell.
4. Coyle, The Talent Code.