A few years ago, encouraging little tiny human beings to regularly participate in weight training was weird and probably mean. But that's because we understood nothing. At this time, it was well-known that children performing weightlifting challenged their development and potentially wrecked their growth, or make it untidy or something. It was a universal fact that weightlifting caused a plethora of grotesque complications. During the exact time that this fact was being established, people were also subscribing to the belief that shoe size determined IQ. As kids age, their feet grow and their IQ goes up as well. This is how human beings develop. The people who brought you "kids shouldn't lift weights" also thought the IQ-foot size relationship was causal.
If that's not enough, the same people with that belief system thought that if women were to run marathons, their innards would fall out and consequently, they could never bear children- and as a direct result of this, mankind would perish. Notice how we didn't perish when they began allowing women to run marathons in the Olympic Games in 1984?
So far no woman innards have slipped out. Likewise, when children began taking up weightlifting, the average height didn't start dwindling. Knowing this, it's fairly upsetting on behalf of the world that this unusual concept is still hanging around. Let me just say that it's completely inconceivable that children would experience growth complications from lifting. It doesn't even make sense. It's actually completely embarrassing that anyone bought it in the first place.
Weight lifting in kids is gradually becoming slightly more common, thankfully. Hopefully it can combat the huge, huge obesity rate kids are struggling with. However, some hesitation always accompanies the push for a still-growing child to work with weights... So we'll cover the proper way to get these little youngsters underneath the weight racks.
There are a couple common goals in encouraging children to workout with weights. Thankfully for our obesity crisis, one of those reasons is general health improvement. And honestly, this crisis is a much more realistic concern than "is resistance exercise going to hurt the child in any way?" Think about it. Diabetes and a (short) lifetime of ridicule regarding stomach fat is the alternative. I'm not trying to be fecicious, I'm just laying out the truth in a way that's slightly more abrasive than it needs to be. But it's the truth nonetheless, and that is the health goal, helping correct the body of an inactive child with an active appetite. It's do-able.
The other goal comes from the parent who wasn't good enough at a sport so they're lacing their child's upbringing with their own frustrations and insecurities regarding that sport. They say they're trying to strengthen little Tommy while he's young to get an early edge on some sport that little Tommy loves. Tommy has no idea. He's just trying to please his dad- but honestly, he probably doesn't mind- that and if you get him involved in resistance exercise at a young age, he will
, without a doubt, be far more competitve.
If you want to improve the physical condition, overall health, and lower the risks of injury and health problems with a child, it's not a huge complicated matter. You should encourage them to participate in prolonged activities that involve large muscle groups at least two to three days per week. Jogging, swimming, biking, etc. Proper resistance exercise fits into this category. If they chose the weights route, make sure they don't use machines that they don't properly fit in, never do a weight that they can't do at least 10 full repetitions with, always exercise with proper form and direct supervision, and communicate any injuries with whoever is supervising them. It's pretty much all common sense. Will it "stunt their growth?" No. I can't believe people think this happens. I cannnot conceive a single mechanism that would cause this unless they stress the bones so much that the epipheseal plates (growth plates) just cap off and ossify. But short of daily marathons, I really don't see this as a consideration. So just be smart with their training. Also, make sure they're getting plenty to drink during their exercise. Water, Gatorade, doesn't matter. A beverage. They're drinking something.
Sport specific and applied training:
Here, you really just don't want to overdo it. If it's a sport you're looking to get them better at, practicing sprints a couple days per week, practicing aspects of the sport almost year round, and playing other organized sports in the off season will be plenty. They don't need to have severe shin splints, numerous fractures, and strained muscles from a heavily overtrained body to excel at a sport. Keep in mind that they're still very young and encourage them to try as hard as they can within the limits of where their body can still handle it. It's easy to overdo it and that doesn't help. So supervise their activity cautiously and if their body seems to be pretty fatigued or they're sustaining injuries, let them rest. Humans need rest. During this time, if your child is excited you could still practice sport specific skill development that isn't strenuous on the body at all. But try not to overtrain them, otherwise they'll progressively get worse at the sport, and that's never any fun. If your goal is to pack a few pounds of muscle on them or make them stronger, resistance training is also available. Again, if this is something you choose, just don't overdo it. Before hitting the weight room, it'd be a good idea to get medical clearance just in case. Like all exercise and training, they should be fully hydrated. Carrying water or a sports drink with them is a good idea if there is no available drinking fountain. Never let them max out or do any weight that they can't handle with proper form for at least 10 repetitions. Never let them use equipment that they don't fit properly into, and they should be directly supervised at all times, always communicating any pain or injuries. Depending on their level of activity outside of the weight room, two to three days per week should be just fine.