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Health & Exercise Forum

Weight Training in Adolescents

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Feb 2, 2010

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumOn a very frequent basis, parents of young athletes ask when it is safe for their children to participate in weight training. This month, for example, I received three such inquiries. While I have addressed this topic in a previous column, I have decided to present the information again. I hope it serves to prevent injury and dispel fear and fallacy.

Weight training, weight lifting or resistive training all describes the use of a resistive force on a muscle to improve strength. While much attention has been given to the benefits of weight training in adults, much less has been written about its application in children.

Best Age to Begin Weight Training

According to the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics, children less than 12 years old are considered prepubescent or before puberty. Teenagers who are between 12 and 19 are considered adolescents. Studies consistently demonstrate that strength gains are much more significant in adolescents than in preadolescents. It is important to note that these strength gains are not only from the enlargement of muscle fibers (hypertrophy), but also from the improvement in the coordination and efficiency in muscle contraction and the recruitment of motor units and fibers within the muscle.

Pre-adolescents lack the hormones necessary to develop masculine characteristics. Adolescents begin to produce the hormones of testosterone and androsterone to develop secondary sexual characteristics such as pubic hair and enlarged genitalia. In view of this, age 13-14 is the optimal age to safely begin and benefit from a well-designed weight training program.

Benefits of a Weight Training Program for Adolescents

  • Increased Strength
  • Improved Sports Performance
  • Improved Injury Rehab
  • Improved Overall Health & Wellness

Risks of Poorly Designed or Unsupervised Weight-Training Programs

  • Risk level increases if the program is not developed or supervised by a qualified adult for technique, safety, intensity and frequency
  • Lower Back Pain – from poor technique and overload
  • Muscle/Tendon Strain – from overuse and overload
  • Tendonitis – from overuse and overload
  • Growth Plate Stress – (Osgood Schlatter’s Disease “ bump on the knee) from overload

Begin A Weight Training Program for Adolescents

  • Pediatrician/Family Physician – get medical clearance to make sure that you are not at risk, especially if you have medical issues such as juvenile diabetes or juvenile arthritis
  • Orthopedic Physical Therapist – your doctor may think you would benefit from a few visits with an orthopedic PT to make sure your program is well-designed for your specific goals and your specific sport (track, football, basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis)
  • Avoid Competitive Weight Lifting – it sets you up for injury! No Clean-Jerk, Overhead Press, Full Squats. Don’t compete to lift to your maximum. Keep lifting FUN! Make training sport specific because soccer fitness is different than football fitness and runners differ from swimmers.
  • Technique
    • Slowly lift and lower weight 4 seconds up, 4 seconds down
    • Breath – inhale lifting weight up and exhale down
    • Never hold breath!
    • Exercise major muscle groups:
    • Upper body: shrugs, rows, lats, biceps, triceps, chest press, wrist curls – all with light dumbbells and bands to start
    • Lower Body: hip hike, leg extension, ham curl, step ups, 45 degree squat, calf raise – all light with sandbags and dumbbells to start
  • Lift 3 times per week on alternating days – 30 to 45 minute sessions
    • Warm up
    • Cool down
    • Work upper body/lower body
    • Can alternate days for upper body and lower body
    • Can alternate days for weight lifting with aerobic exercise (swim, run, bike)
  • Concentrate on low weights (3-5#)/high repetitions(10-15 times)
    • Once master technique add 1-2 # and 3-5 reps
    • Never advance weight or reps if you overstrain and compromise technique


  • If you have pain
  • If you get lightheaded or dizzy
  • If you experience lower back pain or joint pain
  • If you have muscle or joint pain that lasts more than 2 days

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an affiliated faculty member at the University of Scranton, PT Dept.