Strength training is a staple of any fitness program. But there is a lot of confusion about the best age to start lifting weights.
Generally speaking, the best age to start lifting weights is anywhere between 11-14 years of age. The younger you start training, the greater your skills will develop as you get older. Therefore you will have a better chance of becoming a professional athlete and possibly a world champion.
The Soviet Union did plenty of research into the development of the young athlete into a world champion. They found that most world champions began sports training before the age of 14. This included resistance training as well; after all, the research was based off of weightlifters.
But why exactly is this the case? Don’t young lifters put themselves at more risk of stunting their growth?
In this article we will discuss these questions and address if they are really true, or if they are just myths and superstition.
How Our Bodies Get Stronger
First before we get to the questions, let’s talk briefly about how our bodies actually get stronger. I have written about this in much more detail in my strength training programs article and strength training levels article, so I will not go into too much detail here.
Our bodies get stronger in two ways, neurologically and physiologically.
When ever you are lifting a weight, you are performing a movement. Movements don’t happen on their own, your nervous system tells your muscles how to move to execute the movement.
The more you perform a movement, the better you get at it. Your body literally strengthens its neurological connections to those muscles to perform the movement quicker and more effectively.
This process of strengthening the neural pathways is commonly referred to as skill.
We are all familiar with this one. This is your actual muscles adapting to the demand of strength training.
Whenever you lift heavy weights, you are physically damaging your muscles. This causes your muscles to rip. You feel this the next morning after a workout as soreness.
As you spend some time in recovery, your muscles will get bigger and stronger. The reason most of us train to begin with.
Why Do You Want To Start Training At A Younger Age?
Since you now understand how our bodies adapt to strength training, let’s go over why you should start young.
The physiology of a young child is different from that of an adult. A young child doesn’t have the physiological capacity to actually build bigger and stronger muscles….. yet.
Their bodies haven’t learned how to actually build bigger and stronger muscles yet. They have to go through puberty first. Puberty starts earlier for girls (~11 years of age) and later for boys (~12 years of age). After puberty, the body learns how to build more muscle mass.
However, remember that physiological strength gains are only half of the coin. You still have neurological adaptations from strength training. Which young kids can still gain from resistance training.
The reason you want to start so young with kids, especially if you want them to excel in sports, is skill acquisition.
The younger the kids start lifting weights and practicing these movements, the better their movement patterns will be when they get older and stronger.
Can They Still Build Strength?
Yes! They can absolutely still build strength. They just will not build as much muscle mass as a child who has made it through puberty.
The neurological adaptations will still allow the children to build a substantial amount of strength.
But just to be clear. A young lifter should not be lifting massive weights without proper coaching and supervision.
At a young age, most children’s movement patterns are still developing so they will not, and should not, lift any huge weights. They are still learning and need to focus on quality movement much more than the quantity of weight being lifted.
Do Young Lifters Stunt Their Growth If They Lift Too Young?
The most popular of the myths is the stunted growth myth. This myth states that if a young child starts to lift weights at too young of an age, then they will permanently halt their growth spurt.
This stems from the idea that the growth plates children have when they are still developing will become damaged. One of the main growth plates are located in the femurs.
But this is not at all true. Will growth be stunted temporarily? Yes. This is because the body is spending time and energy adapting to the stress of training. But will it be permanent? No.
As soon as the young lifter gets some recovery time, the body will go through a phase called catch up growth. This is a super rapid growth spurt where the body grows very quickly in a short amount of time.
During these short spurts, the body will “catch up” right where it left off and continue the development process into adulthood.
The Biggest Risk For Young Lifters
With those myths dispelled, what exactly is the single biggest risk to a young lifter? Well, I couldn’t narrow it down to one single risk, so I narrowed it down to two major risks. One in the weight room and one outside of the weight room.
Inside the weight room, they run the risk for injury if their form is not sufficient. The same risk applies to any adult lifting weights as well.
Outside the weight room, the biggest risk is sleep loss. The average adult needs around 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Sleep is very important for adults too, but it even more important for young kids. On average, young kids need around 10-12 hours of sleep per night.
Most young kids don’t get anywhere near the right amount of sleep. Most kids have horrible sleeping patterns and instead try to get catch up sleep on the weekends. You can get catch up growth, but no catch up sleep.
So if there is any major risk to young lifters, it would be sleep depravation, not strength training.
There is no reason why a young kid should not start training in some way. Training builds discipline, character, grit, hard work and all other kinds of noble qualities that are needed for a successful and well lived life. After all isn’t that the true curriculum that we should be teaching our kids?
You may decide to do as you wish, but the clock is ticking and you can never get your lost time back. So make sure you take advantage of each moment to build a better future for your children.
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