Why do I have my children lift weights?
My 5 year old competes in Olympic Weightlifting. He started when he was 2 years old, and did his first meet at age 4. I believe he is the youngest ever member of USA Weightlifting, since he joined right after his 4th birthday. Yesterday he snatched 9Kg and clean and jerked 11kg, giving him a total above his body weight of 19kg. My current 2 year old routinely snatches and cleans 2kg. People ask me why my children do this… to the two boys, they’re just doing what Daddy does. But to me, as an expert in the field of fitness/ strength & conditioning, it’s much much more than that!
Let’s rewind a bit. I’m not just some dad lifting weights and making my kids do the same. Among several coaching certifications I have, I’m a certified USA Weightlifting Level 2 coach, National Association of Sports Youth Exercise Specialist (NASM- YES) , NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, and International Sport Sciences Association (ISSA) Master Fitness Trainer. I have also competed in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting as an adult on both the National and international platform as a Master Lifter. I only say this here to show I am an expert in the field, and know not only how to teach proper form, but also understand the science of why I want my kids to lift weights… and am able to do it in a safe and controlled environment.
Ok back to the original question. The boys just think that they’re doing a fun activity that their Daddy does. Which is obviously true. However, besides that, what they don’t realize is that I’m decreasing their injury risk in the other other sports they play (soccer and baseball) as well as lowering injury risk throughout their life. Resistance training, at any age, increases bone density. In plain English, the more dense a bone is, the less likely it is to break or fracture. I’m also teaching them body mechanics, proper movement, and coordination, which will stay with them throughout hopefully the next 90+ years. Think about the coordination, balance, flexibility, and body awareness needed to take a barbell from the ground to overhead while you pull yourself down under the bar. Then to stabilize the bar and stand up with it keeping your arms locked out. This all translates over to other sports, not just increasing their athletic performance but, more importantly decreasing their injury risk.
With my 5 year old, I noticed a clear direct relationship with his soccer and baseball performance on the weeks he lifts vs the weeks he doesn’t. So, this past fall baseball season (coach pitch) I made it a priority to make sure he got 10-15 minutes of weightlifting in 2 times a week. (Proud dad side note, his team went undefeated and won the championship… on a 2 out bottom of the 5th opposite field 2 RBI walk off single by my boy). Throughout the season, I heard comments from other parents about how powerfully he swings the bat, and how hard he throws the ball compared to most of the other kids. One I comment I remember hearing as I stood behind home plate video’ing his at bat was “that kid isn’t human, he’s a monster with that swing”. But obviously, he is human, he just knows how to use his hips to create leverage and power as he swings the bat and throws. He knows how to brace to get more power. And when he swings the bat you can see that in his face and body language. It’s also very clear on the soccer pitch. The other children push him to try to knock him off the ball and his balance and coordination is above average as he is generally able to dribble around the field long enough to either get a shot in a game situation or to be the last one to not have his ball knocked away in skills drills. While he is unaware there’s a direct relationship, the trained eye sees his movement is all with a purpose and he has above average body control, and that can be related back to his time spent with the barbell.
There’s a lot of really smart people, who mean well, out there that give me a hard time and make negative comments about how it will stunt the kids’ growth. However, no one making that claim has yet to produce any sort of credential showing me that they’re an expert in the fields of youth fitness or strength and conditioning, or even kinesiology. The sheer idea that resistance training will stunt a kids growth because “most weightlifters are short” is as asinine as saying “playing basketball helps a child grow taller”. It is a fact that most professional weightlifters are short because it’s much harder to move a heavy weight over a greater distance, so being short has an advantage in the sport, just like being tall has an athletic advantage in the sport of basketball. Common sense goes a long way sometimes.
Additionally, the National Association of Sports Medicine, the gold standard among personal training and the fitness industry, recommends youths ages 5-14 participate in resistance training 2-3 days a week under proper qualified supervision. Those are great reasons to have my boys lift. But, what’s also important is the mental benefit they get. Ask any adult who has done a weightlifting meet, going out there on the platform with a crowd watching you, and 3 judges deciding whether you’re successful or not is pretty intimidating. My boys are growing up doing just that, so they’re confidence will be high in other pressure situations where a crowed is watching them perform or speak. Confidence in life will get you pretty far. Then there’s also the obvious benefit of teaching them healthy exercise habits that can last their lifetime.
So in closing, do I think all kids should participate in Olympic weightlifting? That’s up to the parents, but if they have a coach who understands how children’s bodies develops, how fitness and resistance training impact that development, and they understand and can teach the Olympic movements, then yes, I see great benefit to putting a child in a weightlifting program. But in all reality, any kind of youth fitness program that incorporates resistance training and is led by qualified teachers/ coaches will benefit any child in multiple ways, and sets him/her up for a chance at a healthier more active life.
*** if you’re interested in following my boys’ weightlifting journey, I put several training videos and pictures up on the gym’s instagram @Atl_strength_and_conditioning