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Kids and Weight Lifting
Q: Our 11-year-old is interested in weight lifting. Is he too young to begin? If not, how much is too much? We don't want him to overdo it.
A: When many of us think of weight lifting, we envision the Olympics: a bulked-up man, clean jerking a set of 400-pound barbells over his head. This is definitely not something you want an 11-year-old to participate in! Weight training is designed to increase muscle bulk: the participant lifts very large loads for a few repetitions, and a lot of power is used. This isn't a good activity for growing children because it can cause injury to the growth plates of the bones. Since the bones don't complete all of their growth until late in adolescence, weight training should be avoided until after the teen years are over.
What your son hopefully means is that he wants to try strength training. Strength training involves more frequent repetitions (usually 15) of a mild to moderate amount of weight. It can also include resistance exercises and isometric exercises (exercises that tone and strengthen the muscles without the lifting or movement of weights). The goal is to increase muscle strength over a short time. Strength training improves performance in sports and also has been shown to decrease the risk of injury. It can be helpful regardless of the sport that the child participates in and can improve bone health and strength as well, which is particularly important for pre-adolescent and adolescent girls.
Whatever activity your son participates in, it's important to make sure that he is supervised by knowledgeable, qualified instructors who are used to working with children; an athletic trainer at his school or community center should be a good resource.
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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.