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Strength Training for Kids and Teens

June 21, 2021

By: Dr. Sigrid Wolf, a sports medicine physician, answers your questions about strength and resistance training for kids and adolescents.

What is strength and resistance training?

The terms “strength training” and “resistance training” mean the same thing. They both describe a type of exercise designed to increase muscle strength, power, and endurance. There are lots of ways to train your muscles like this! You can strength train with just your body weight—like push-ups or sit-ups—or you can use other equipment like weights or exercise bands.

What are the benefits of strength training?

Strength training improves heart health and also enhances motor skills like the speed, power, coordination, and balance used in sports. Strength training also builds stronger bones by improving bone mineral density. Kids with adequate strength for their activities have fewer injuries and recover faster if they get hurt.

Is it safe?

Yes! Strength and resistance training is very safe when supervised by a professional like a coach certified in strength and conditioning or weight lifting. Using the correct form is key for preventing injuries. Before starting, kids should be able to reliably follow directions (usually around ages 5-7). Kids and teens should start training without weights or with very light weights until they master safe form for each exercise. Children can also strength train with just their body weight by doing fun exercises like crab walks, bear crawls, kangaroo hops, and balancing on one leg.

What should parents look for in a healthy strength training program?

Most programs should last 20-30 minutes with 2-3 sessions per week. It takes about 8 weeks of consistent training to see results. Sessions should start with a warm-up involving dynamic movements like squats, lunges, or jumping jacks. After the warm-up, exercises should target larger muscle groups and use bigger movements (such as overhead press, burpees etc.). Next, exercises should target smaller muscle groups (such as bicep curls, calf raises, etc.). Finally, kids should cool down and stretch.

Will strength training stunt my child’s growth?

Strength training does not affect a child’s final adult height or injure their growth plates. It is safe for kids to strength train even before puberty. While you probably won’t see larger muscles develop in younger children, there are still measurable gains in strength!  

How will it affect their sports performance?

All high level athletes strength train because it improves athletic performance. You can tailor a strength training program to improve performance in specific sports. For example, a strength training program for a baseball player may focus more on shoulder and core strength, but a runner’s program might focus more on lower body strength like ankles, hips, and core.

Are there any kids or teens who should not strength train?

Fortunately, most kids and teens may safely strength train. There are some medical conditions, like certain heart conditions and chemotherapy medications, that could be an issue for strength training. Before starting, ask your child’s doctor if they are healthy enough to participate.

About the author:

Dr. Sigrid Wolf is an assistant professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and an attending physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She completed her fellowship in primary care sports medicine at Northwestern University. 

Learn more about our Institute for Sports Medicine