Strength training guidelines for kids and teens

  • The main goal for children and teens should be to increase overall strength and not focus on making muscles bigger.

    The main goal for children and teens should be to increase overall strength and not focus on making muscles bigger. Courtesy of Lurie Children's Hospital

  • Dr. Rebecca Carl

    Dr. Rebecca Carl

By Lurie Children’s Hospital
Posted8/18/2019 7:30 AM

End of summer means fall sports training is gearing up.

Preseason preparation often involves strength and conditioning training. Dr. Rebecca Carl, attending physician of pediatric sports medicine at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, outlines whether or not it is healthy for kids to strength train and shares preventive safety tips during conditioning.


Strength training does not require weights, but can involve a variety of mechanisms, such as using your own body weight or resistance tools like elastic bands, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The main goal for children and teens should be to increase overall strength and not focus on making muscles bigger.

Carl affirms strength training is beneficial for kids. Injury rates are low and the types of exercises appropriate depend on individual goals of each person.

However, before engaging in either activity, kids must be mature enough to follow directions and learn appropriate techniques, generally around age 7 or 8. They also need to learn proper form before adding weights and always make sure to have knowledgeable supervision.

"Strength training is protective against injuries. The protective effects of strength training against knee injuries has been particularly well-studied," Carl said.

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Adequate form when training varies from exercise to exercise, but for guidance Carl recommends kids and parents seek assistance from a conditioning professional or refer to the American Academy of Pediatrics statement on strength training.

This statement highlights how strength training can improve overall performance levels, reduce potential for injuries, serve as rehabilitation for injuries, and benefit long-term health and bone mass. The message also emphasizes the importance of children receiving a medical evaluation prior to starting strength training programs.

How much weight can children or teenagers lift and how often?

Carl suggests the amount of weight is specific and individualized, based on factors like the ability to perform eight to 15 repetitions with good form, experience and attention to technique. It is best to first practice form without actual weights and use body weight. Once maintaining this form, they can strength train three times a week; however this range varies for each person.

"Being safe and having proper technique are top assets to keep in mind when engaging in strength and weight-lifting exercises. Injuries typically occur from mishandling weights, often as a consequence of inadequate supervision," emphasizes Carl. "To prevent injuries, remember to be conscious of your technique and don't engage in more than you can handle. Kids and teenagers should also stay away from performance-enhancing substances, including: steroids and supplements such as Creatine."

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

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