T Nation

When to Start Heavy Weights


I am teaching my younger cousin how to lift weights. He is starting 8th grade. Is it safe for him to use Starting Strength, or is a 5x5 rep scheme to heavy at that age? also, does anyone have any links to original studies done on the subject?


Why not just have him run sprints/ run on an incline treadmill and do that program of bw exercises that Colucci tells every young people to do before they touch the barbell?

I would imagine the biggest issue is whether he'll be able to work with the 45lb bar in the first place. If he can, then I don't see an issue so long as he has someone teaching him proper form =D The whole thing about weighted exercises stunting your growth is bullshit anyhow. Look at fucking high-school football players.


If he enjoys it give it a run.....

I don't believe there has been actual scientific proof that links lifting from a young age and not reaching your potential height or something.


Most people advise teens to really ace bodyweight exercises first. So let him do pull ups, dips, and lunges for a month or two along with sprints - then you can try to introduce him to weights. Make sure he progresses slowly; each rep should look perfect.


How big is he? Eighth grade is right at that window where you've still got a couple guys that look prepubescent while some guys look full grown. I think that matters.


This. Personally I'd leave out the big lifts until he's 16.

Tons of pullups, med ball throws, jump variations and sprints are the order of the day. If need be let him do high rep curls to satisfy his inner bodybuilder. Exposing him to a variety of sports also a good idea.


I'll copy/paste exactly what I posted in a thread about this from last year...

About 10 minutes of searching the web, and I found the following:

1987 study:
"This study examined the safety of one type of strength training for prepubescent males. Eighteen males (average age, 8.3 +/- 1.2 years) participated in a 45 min/session, three session/week, 14 week supervised strength training program with an attendance rate of 91.5%. Concentric work was done almost exclusively.
Results showed that in the short term, supervised concentric strength training results in a low injury rate and does not adversely affect bone, muscle, or epiphyses; nor does it adversely affect growth, development, flexibility, or motor performance. As the safety question is multifaceted, this should not lead to the conclusion that strength training for prepubescents is uniformly safe. Further research is needed."

1998 study:
"Two socioeconomically equivalent schools were randomly allocated to be an "exercise" or "control" school. Twenty boys (mean age 10.4 years, ranging 8.4-11.8) from the "exercise" school participated in an 8-month exercise program of 30 minutes of weight-bearing activity three times weekly for 32 weeks (basketball, weight training, aerobics, soccer, volleyball, gymnastics, folk and line dancing)...
Most anthropometric measurements increased during the 8 months (Table 1). The increases in biacromial and femoral intercondylar widths in the exercise group were greater than in controls. BMC and areal BMD increased in both groups at all sites except the arms and skull. The increases in the exercise group were twice those in the controls at most sites, reaching statistical significance at the lumbar spine, legs, and total body areal BMD"

(Translation into non-science speak: Weight-bearing activity, which included weight training, significantly increased bone mass density and and bone mineral content in the exercising kids.)

2003 journal from the peer-reviewed The Physician and Sportsmedicine (PDF file):
"One theoretical concern is that the growing bones of children may be less resilient to physical stresses than the bones of adults. Although a few case study reports have noted growth plate fractures in children who lifted weights, most of these injuries occurred as a result of improper training, excessive loading, and lack of qualified adult supervision.

A literature review reported no cases of any overt clinical injuries, including epiphyseal fractures, among those in appropriately supervised strength training programs. The risk of an epiphyseal plate fracture in prepubescents is actually less than in adolescents, because the epiphyseal plates are stronger and more resistant to shearing forces.
Recent literature indicates that strength training will not have an adverse effect on growth. A few studies have shown positive growth effects as long as proper nutrition and age-specific physical activity guidelines were met. However, resistance training will not affect an individuals' genotypic maximum. Parents can be assured that strength training (in moderation) will not have an adverse effect on growth. Training may actually be an effective stimulus for growth and bone mineralization in children, especially for those at risk for osteopenia or osteoporosis."


From well-designed, well-supervised lifting, there's little risk. Bad programs and/or bad technique, the risk skyrockets. Another 2009 study/review I just found:

"The rare case reports of epiphyseal plate fractures related to strength training are attributed to misusing equipment, lifting inappropriate amounts of weight, using improper technique, or training without qualified adult supervision. These factors emphasize the need for trained fitness professionals to teach correct form and monitor a logical progression of weight.

Similar to rare epiphyseal injuries, soft-tissue injuries to the lower back are usually the result of poor technique, too much weight, or ballistic lifts. Most serious injuries to the lower back occur while using free weights. Participating in an organized, supervised strength training program can prevent these injuries while favorably influencing bone growth and development in youth by increasing bone mineral density."

This is also why it's best to avoid "rep maxes" and training to failure. It's basically a built-in way to ensure solid technique on every single rep without overstressing the body's support structures. I've actually got an article coming out, hopefully in a week or so, that gets into this a little bit more.

How tall is he, what's he weigh, and what kind of shape is he in (is he active/an athlete, pudgy, skinny, etc.)?

My go-to for kids is:

3 Days a Week
A) Squat 2x12-15
B) Push-up 2x12-15
C) Alternating lunge 2x12-15 per leg
D) Neutral-grip pull-up or horizontal row 2x12-15
E) Plank 2x15-count
F) Burpee 2x15

All bodyweight-only, never training near muscular failure. When the workout is "easy" from start to finish, then move on to a free weight-focused program.


The article I was referring to, "Teaching a Kid to Lift":


I purchased a 35 lb Olympic bar for my wife and intend to have by boys use it when they are old enough. You could also obtain some standard bars that are lighter.

I could imagine that even after building up from bodyweight exercises jumping directly to 45 lbs might be a bit much.


Dumbbell lifts. Everything dumbbells for a long time, first progression to my mind after bodyweight only exercises are finished. Can start weight progression lower, requires more input from overlooked small stabilizers that get ignored often, etc etc. I am still a fan of barbell for back squattin and front squatting, but those should be "advanced" exercises after goblet squats and maybe zercher squats are perfected. too easy to screw up form from wanti.g to go up in weight too fast if you don't pattern correctly first.


So much this.

Probably the biggest issue with teenage males lifting is that they're teenage males. It is the nature of the beast to always try and outdo their bros and impress the chicks that aren't even paying attention anyways by lifting the heaviest weight they can with ugly form.

I agree with CC that BW exercises are the way to go, and they can definitely be modded to accommodate his strength increases (e.g. throw on a weight vest for some pullups, pistol squats, ring pushups, etc.). Can't see some prowler work hurting, either.

The alternative (i.e. BB work), I suppose, would be to make sure he's supervised by someone experienced at all times until he's a competent lifter in his own right.


Bodyweight exercises can't be adjusted very easily, so the resistance can easily be too great or too small. It also doesn't build lifting technique. Begin barbell lifts with light weights (but not high reps - these lead to the re-inforcement of poor technique and lower force production per rep) and progress once technique is acceptable. If the focus is not on Olympic weightlifting, stick with the squat, bench, deadlift, overhead press and, if desired, front squat. DB rows and pull-ups etc. can be added as needed and used to increase volume along with bodyweight exercises while the main lifts are still being learnt.




You can actually progress or regress any basic bodyweight exercise pretty easily if you know what you're doing.

First, that's false because when you teach any exercise you're teaching technique. Also, there's definitely a basic level of technique transfer from unweighted squats to back or front squats, from pull-ups to pulldowns, etc.

Secondly, and much more relevant, the priority isn't on "building lifting technique" at this stage. It's about building fundamental strength and conditioning in the muscles and in the support structures before progressing further.

The lightest barbell most people have access to in a gym is 45 pounds. I'd say that can't be adjusted down very easily, or at all, and can easily be too great to begin with for some kids.


I'm starting him off with dumbell and bodyweight excercises until he reaches high school. He is strong enough to bench the bar and could easily deadlift it, but he has some trouble squatting because of balance.


Then let him do proper bodyweight squats and work on his mobility; it will pay big dividends later.