When is The Proper Age to Begin Coaching Your Youngsters?

Strength training has a host of benefits for both adults and children ranging from stronger bones and muscles to better mental and emotional health. So, it makes sense that many parents look to get their kids involved in some sort of exercise program, including lighting weights.

“It’s important to expose young children to exercise and being active to help keep them healthy and at a healthy weight, especially with all the processed foods available these days,” explains Michael Wittig, father of four, ISSA master trainer, youth fitness Instructor, nutritionist, sports performance specialist, bodybuilding specialist, and more. “Early exposure can help lead to a lifestyle of being active when they age.”

While exercise does a child’s body and mind good, there are a few “rules” in place when it comes to the starting age and type of training.

Here, Wittig equips you with everything you need to know when getting your kid started in the world of fitness and exercise.

Michael Wittig

What Age Should Kids Begin Lifting Weights?

There is a reason you don’t see a 4-year-old lifting weights but rather utilizing the playground as their gym. For kids under the age of 7, trying to put on muscle (via lifting weights) can place a dangerous strain on young muscles, tendons, and areas of cartilage that haven’t turned to bone.

“Although it does depend on the individual and how fast they mature, I would recommend children under the age of 7 not engage in resistance training,’ says Wittig, as the risk versus reward simply isn’t worth it.

Thankfully, there are many ways for kids to get stronger and boost their level of conditioning without the use of weights. “Kids under seven, or simply not mature enough, can run, swim, and perform bodyweight calisthenics. This is a great age to teach children how to do a bodyweight squat, lunge, pushups, jumps, and more,” says Wittig.

With that, it’s important to know the difference between strength training and weight lifting—especially when it comes to little ones.

Michael Wittig teaching a teenager how use the cable machine with cable curlsMichael Wittig

Strength Training vs. Weightlifting

Although strength training and weightlifting can be used interchangeably, when it comes to strength gains in young children, weights should not be utilized.

For example, instead of performing a dumbbell row to increase back strength, the child should be guided toward performing pullups on the neighborhood park’s jungle gym or increase their performance on the monkey bars. The same idea, Witting says, can be applied to all areas of the body.

Most daily activities like running around outside, climbing trees, playgrounds, and sport-like activities (T-ball, basketball) will keep kids active and their fitness evolving until their bodies can handle the load of dumbbells.

Michael Wittig teaching a teenager how to perform dumbbell rowsMichael Wittig

Indoor Training Tips for Kids Under 7

To keep kids active indoors there are plenty of tools, toys, and equipment to help them not only work on their fitness level but increase balance and boost creativity. A simple resistance band kit will allow the child to experience some resistance without a dangerous load on their muscles and joints. A doorway pullup bar (with adult supervision/assistance) can make the child feel like they are on the monkey bars, and creative movement sets like Stapelstein encourage kids to focus on balance as they build their core and minds.

How to Safely Get Your Pre-K Started in Weightlifting

When your child is ready for the weights, it’s important to proceed with caution by following the safety tips Wittig includes below.

Although it might be tempting for your child to pick up the heaviest weight they can, your goal is to set the pace of their first of many weightlifting sessions.

“At that young of an age, the focus should be form, light weight, higher repetitions, low volume, and professional guidance and observation,” says Wittig, and recommends combining some basic resistance training with functional exercises like running, swimming, and body-weight movements.

Try This: Wittig started his young boys off with a set of resistance bands that included a door attachment, some light dumbbells, and his personal guidance.

Once your child is old enough and physically ready, you can introduce heavier dumbbells.

Michael Wittig teaching a teenager how to exerciseMichael Wittig

Do This When Training Your Toddler

  • Teach them proper form
  • Supervise children when exercising
  • Use light weights
  • Opt for high reps
  • Keep volume low
  • Keep workout time shorter
  • Make it fun

 Don’t Do This When Training Your Toddler

  • Don’t ever let them lift unsupervised!
  • Don’t max out or lift heavy
  • Don’t force them to work out
  • Don’t allow children under 7 to lift weights

Recover and Have Fun

w that you have a better idea of when (and how) to train your child, keep in mind they need a proper recovery time as well. Start out training a few days a week with recovery days in between.  This might look like light play outside or simply resting sore muscles.

Gradually build up training days and workloads as your child adjusts, grows, and recovers properly. Pay attention to how they respond to their training, keeping fun at the forefront of every session.  If they are having fun, they are most likely to stick with it into adulthood.

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