Prior to puberty (13 or 14 years of age), most youngsters lack
the muscular and skeletal development required to safely participate
in a vigorous weight training program. This does not mean, however,
that they should not engage in strength training activities.
Children as young as seven who can follow directions, use correct
exercise technique and have discipline, can improve muscular strength
and endurance by doing callisthenic-type exercises.
Regardless of age, the first year of formalized training should be
to learn correct exercise technique and develop a general fitness
Exercises should be fun and include activities for the total body
using only body weight as resistance. Children should workout three
times per week and do 1x 10-15 reps of jumping jacks, push ups,
pull-ups, dips, sit-ups, squats, lunges, step-ups, step-downs, etc.
to strengthen the body core (legs, hips, abdomen and back). They
should also learn basic running mechanics and play simple games
involving starts, stops, relays, shuttles, hopping, jumping, skipping,
swinging and throwing to improve agility, balance and coordination
(ABC). Keep the volume low. Over training can cause a loss of
interest and/or injury.
At 9-10 years of age, most children are physically ready to begin
training with light external resistance. Start with DBs. Do 1x 10x5
lb for the hips and legs and 1x 10x2 lb for the upper body. Keep the
exercises simple and monitor how the child tolerates the stresses of
Do a total body program using DB squat, step-up and lunge for the
legs; DB bench press, arm curl, triceps kickback and forearm exercises
for the upper body and MD ball swings and twists for the trunk.
Gradually build to 2x 10-15 with 1-10 lb resistance. Introduce
squat and touch (SAT), push up plus, simple plyometric drills
(tuck, pike and split jump), backward skips, backward runs and
moderate intensity games and relays for ABC.
The 11-13 year-old group should continue the basic exercises
using light resistance and be introduced to more advanced
exercises (lat pulls, leg press, leg curl, leg extension, calf
raise, rows and shrugs) with little or no resistance. Add MD ball
throws and sit-ups for the trunk. Run forward and backwards and
laterally, do plyometrics (hops and jumps), play games and run
relays for ABC. Start with 2x10 and build to 2x15).
Add sport-specific exercises and increase the volume of training
at 14-15 years of age. Start with 2x10 and build to 3x10. Introduce
walking, lateral and crossover lunges, power step-ups and box
crossovers for the legs. Do bench, incline press and/or flys for
the chest, rows for the back and back squats and lunges for the
legs. Hop 1-2 times before doing MD ball throws to strengthen
the trunk. Do agility ladders, run 1.5 miles and do sprints and
interval runs on alternate days.
By age 16, most athletes are ready for entry level adult programs,
but only if they have gained a basic level of training experience.
Start with higher volume - lower intensity work and gradually build
to lower volume - higher intensity work. Begin with 3x10. Gradually
add resistance and build to 3x6. When they can do 3x6, reduce the
weight until they can do 3x10 and gradually build to 3x6 with a
heavier weight. Avoid max or near-max lifts until age 18 or older.
For max safety, avoid training with loads that cannot be lifted at
least six times. Continue to do distance, sprint, interval,
plyometric, abdominal and ABC work.
Children are not miniature adults and therefore should not use
programs designed for adults. They lack the physical development,
emotional maturity and training background to safely perform adult-
The goal of a youth resistance training program is to develop total
fitness, not to look like Jeff Bagwell or Mark McGwire. Youngsters
need a comprehensive program designed to establish a sound fitness
base and improve basic motor skills.
Bob Note: DB = dumb bells