Over the past 10 years, I’ve worked in Division I college athletics at some of the top universities in the country. One of the most popular questions I receive from friends, family, moms and dads is: “When should my child start lifting weights?”
The true answer is there is no “perfect” time. Every child matures at a different rate, with each of them having a different developmental background. When I reflect on this question now at 36 years old, I automatically think back to my personal development and growth.
In those middle school years, I ran faster and got stronger. By that age, I was already a multi-sport athlete, playing in recreational sports, as well as competitive travel teams. While lifting weights was non-existent for me, physical activity was very much a part of my daily routine.
Even though I wasn’t necessarily picking up a weighted barbell, I was running, jumping and sprinting. These activities alone helped me gain muscle, since they’re all forms of plyometrics and directly associated with getting stronger. For this reason, I believe it is vital for middle school kids to play multiple sports that involve acceleration, deceleration, and changing directions.
As for my advice on how to approach weightlifting for early teens: Take it slow. I believe middle-school-aged youth should work on body control and lifting their own body weight first. Exercises such as pushups, pull ups, and body weight lunges or squats must be mastered before progressing to loaded exercises. A solid mix of playing sports – along with body weight exercises – will help them develop a strong foundation for progress in the future.
At the end of the day, the “perfect” time to start lifting can be a case-by-case. The best answer really depends on the child’s development and age. Just know, the more you responsibly expose your children to sports and a fitness lifestyle now, the better chance they have of becoming athletic and able to handle themselves with weight bearing exercises in the future.
– Ben Fleming, Clean Eatz Corporate Team, Project Management & Operations