Exercise is great for all ages, but care must be taken when deciding the best time for a teenager to start lifting weights. It’s common to hear that strength training will stunt their growth and hinder athletic development. So when is it appropriate for teenagers to start lifting weights and what are some good strategies for improving athletic development?
Does Age Matter?
A lot of parents believe that strength training will stunt their teenager’s growth and hinder athletic development. Boys and girls mature at different ages and therefore adding very intensive weight training too early can be considered unsafe. Generally, boys reach physical maturity between ages 16-18, and girls between ages 15-17. But every individual is different, so setting an exact age where one begins intensive weight training can still be difficult. The best thing to do is to consult a doctor and fitness professional regarding whether a teenager is ready to begin weight training in the gym.
That being said, the most important aspects when starting a training program for a teenager are supervision, exercise technique, light weights, and high repetitions in the 10-15 range. If you believe your teenager’s still too young to be lifting weights but still want them to be physically fit, incorporate plyometrics, body-weight exercises, and various sports activities into their workout routine. If they’re trying to become a better hockey player, for example, try incorporating another sport such as lacrosse or boxing. Using muscles in a different way can elevate performance.
Focus on Cross-Training
Instead of thinking ‘strength’ training, consider cross-training for teenagers. Cross-training incorporates lifting light weight for a higher number of sets and reps, body-weight exercises, and more sport-related cardiovascular exercises than strength training. While the goal of strength training is to drastically increase strength and muscle mass, the goal of cross-training is to improve sports-related performance by promoting the development and coordination of the neuromuscular and musculoskeletal system.
Teach Proper Technique
When focusing on weightlifting, be careful not to create muscle imbalances with poor technique or imbalanced workouts. Teenagers will need to do extra workouts for their back and hamstrings as these areas of the body are often neglected. A lot of teenagers focus on push movements like bench press and push-ups and quad development, but a balanced workout routine should incorporate an equal amount of pull-ups and back exercises and hamstring curls.
Make it Fun
And finally, athletic training at a young age should be fun. Incorporating obstacle courses and other sport-related activities is a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness, hand-eye coordination, and foster a team mentality.
Finding the right age for a teenager to start athletic training and determining the intensity of the exercises can be tricky. But the entire endeavor should not only be thought of as a way of improving performance. Athletic training, regardless of whether a teenager makes it to the big leagues, should also be about fostering a lifestyle consisting of regular exercise and health consciousness that they carry on into adulthood.