The Right Age to Start Weight Training By Mike Westerdal of CriticalBench.com
There are body building competitions for boys as young as 13 years old. Is this too young? Just like any just about any other issue, there are plenty of opinions on both sides. Some experts say that age 13 is too young to start a weight training regimen while other equally-qualified experts see no harm in it at all. What are the pros and cons of each side and at what age is it safe for a guy to start lifting weights?
Lots of experts say that under proper supervision, when a child is old enough to begin participating in organized sports, he or she is old enough to start "strength training" by doing push-ups, sit-ups and similar exercises. For our purposes though, I want to focus on "weight training" using free weights and/or machines, not the regular gym class stuff.
Boys generally start taking an interest in improving their bodies about the time they hit puberty (12-13 years old). That shouldn't come as a surprise-that's when they start to develop masculine characteristics, their bodies begin to change and grow and they become interested in girls. Preadolescent boys (before puberty) lack the androgens-the body's natural steroid hormones such as testosterone or androsterone-that trigger and control the development of the masculine characteristics.
Given the fact that in prepubescent boys production of natural steroid hormones has yet to ramp up, it would seem to make sense that boys who haven't entered puberty would not really benefit from weight training because their body lacks some of the basic building blocks necessary to gain lean muscle. However, several studies have indicated that even prepubescent boys can achieve gains in strength through weight/resistance training these gains are attributed to the nervous system and motor learning rather than hormones-in other words, they'll usually gain strength but muscle gains will be minimal.
Some people say that adolescent boys (about 13 years old) should not be weight training because they believe the risk of injuries is too great and that it can even result in stunted growth. I researched this idea and didn't found any credible sources to validate it though. The research I've found indicates that provided the youth engages in a supervised, appropriate weight training program, there is no danger of stunted growth. Furthermore, experts say that the risk of injury from a properly supervised weight training program is no worse than that of participating in any ordinary sporting activity.
An adolescent who is going to embark on a weight training program should not just jump into a water-down adult workout. The central nervous system in young athletes is still developing so their coordination and balance are not going to be as capable as in adults. So instead of focusing maximum weight or the number of lifts, the emphasis should be on executing proper form. Only once the proper form has been mastered should the weight or resistance be increased. A good rule of thumb is to underestimate their physical abilities rather than overestimate and risk injury.
In general, teen weight lifters should avoid the Olympic-style weight lifting movements. Many of these require a great deal of skill and if done improperly, can result in lower back or even spinal injuries. Interestingly, some experts believe that adolescents should avoid machines in favor of free weights. They say that because machines are designed for adults, improper setup-even just a little-could result in injury.
Similarly, the adolescent lifter should not be training five or six days a week-at least not initially. The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine recommends that teens around the age of 13 should stick to about two to three 20-30 minute training sessions per week. Again, as their mastery and strength improves, the length and frequency of training can be increased.
Recovery should be an integral part of any teen's weightlifting program. Injuries from overuse or overexertion can lead to chronic problems later on in life. Young lifters should always be certain that their body parts/muscle groups are fully recovered in between training sessions. In addition, teen workouts should begin and end with warm-up and cool-down periods.
So overall the consensus seems to be that boys should hold off on embarking on a weight lifting program until they reach puberty at about the age of 13. But even then, certain considerations should be taken including: a medical evaluation should be performed first; proper adult supervision is essential; form needs to be emphasized over weight or reps; all major muscle groups should be addressed; and any sign of injury should be evaluated before continuing the training regimen.
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