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My nephew, age 14, wants to go to the gym. The most important step is already done - he bought some protein powder (careful, irony). However, my sister is opposed to that idea since in her opinion, 14 years is way too young to start lifting weights.

And indeed, a quick google search reveals that the public opinion in the western hemisphere mostly seems to agree with her. It is dangerous, the body is still in the process of growing, the back is too tender,...

If you take a look at ex-soviet countries however, it appears to be quite different. The average Boris Sheiko or Ivan Abadijev trainee started training before or during puberty. Kids seem to be sent to olympic weightlifting training or powerlifting training there like they're sent to soccer in my country (Germany). It's hardly a coincidence that podium spots at IPF Worlds are dominated by russian, bulgarian and ukrainian flags.

The assumption that you have to be an adult to participate in weight training doesn't check out on an intuitive level for me either: The younger a body is, the higher are his capabilities to recover from injury, right? That is, if the injury occured to begin with, because it's approximately 5.000 times more likely to get injured while playing soccer.

Personally I think the only real danger for my nephew (apart from malnutrition due to eating nothing but protein shakes) stems from juvenlie recklessness, like attempting to lift an absolutely inappropriate weight, but that can easily be mitigated by proper supervision and training.

So, my question: Is there an accepted minimum age for general weight training? Has this topic been scientifically researched, and what are the actual dangers for people below that age?

  • All your observations are very much in line with how a lot of the world perceives how weightlifting should begin. However, even in a high school sports setting, the freshman teams are very often beginning weight training with their fellow athletes here in the U.S. I'd be inclined to trust their judgement. I default to others who have a more scientific explanation than mine, just based on experience. – Paul Witry Feb 8 at 20:50
  • There are 8 year olds that lift heavy weights, some even hold records, its more about parents concerns than their health. – Zheer Feb 8 at 20:58
  • @C.Lange mostly interested in general training without competition in mind, but would also be curious about differences in the lower boundary between various disciplines. – UnbescholtenerBuerger Feb 8 at 21:04
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    Yes @Zheer , that's my impression too. The fact that most gyms around here only seem to allow adult members doesn't help either, although I suspect that this is mostly due to insurance and liability reasons. – UnbescholtenerBuerger Feb 8 at 21:08
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    Obviously children under 18 should also avoid lifting anything off the floor (deadlifts), lifting anything overhead (presses) or anything else physical just in case they break their fragile bodies (sarcasm). I think a lot of the Western "wisdom" actually comes from insurance companies unwilling to provide cover for non-adults lifting in gyms. – Dark Hippo Feb 10 at 13:11
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TL;DR: Strength Training can start as early as 7. Serious weightlifting, power-lifting, body-building should wait until later in puberty (11 to 17) when adolescents have reached physical and skeletal maturity.


It seems that most resources I've read are in favor of strength training from a young age. I've read that as soon as kids start doing sports (aged 7 - 8) they can get involved in lifting weights. Obviously strength training may not be as fun as soccer at that age but it does have a lower injury rate. The important points are that kids should focus on developing the movements. Attention spans are likely too low to follow a rigid program.

If your nephew (age 14) is serious about starting a workout routine and packing on muscle (he's already bought the protein powder so it sounds like he's committed) then I don't think there will be an issue. Depending on where he is throughout puberty he will have a different experience. This article from Art-of-Manliness says that serious weightlifting programs shouldn't start until teenagers reach Tanner Stage IV (age 11 to 17), because:

The reason you don’t want to start regularly weight training a child until they reach Tanner Stage 4 is that before then, they just don’t have the hormone levels (specifically, testosterone) to drive progress and recover from session to session.

This article from the American Academy of Pediatrics seems to agree with that as well:

Preadolescents and adolescents should avoid power lifting, body building, and maximal lifts until they reach physical and skeletal maturity.

This doesn't mean you can't hit the gym and learn the movements, though.


The minimum age to compete in the IPF sub-junior category is 14 (Page 2). I like to think that as an international body they've determined that any younger than that is foolish; on a competitive scale. This is an assumption on my part.


I agree with you here:

Personally I think the only real danger for my nephew (apart from malnutrition due to eating nothing but protein shakes) stems from juvenile recklessness, like attempting to lift an absolutely inappropriate weight, but that can easily be mitigated by proper supervision and training.

The real harm that weightlifting will have is if he decides to start ego lifting. This hurts everyone though, not just teenagers. If he eats, rests, and progressively overloads like the rest of the beginners, and proceeds with adequate supervision, I see no issues.


As an aside:

The fact that most gyms around here only seem to allow adult members doesn't help either, although I suspect that this is mostly due to insurance and liability reasons.

It is insurance, liability, and personal reasons. My gym doesn't allow anyone under the age of 16. However, this is due to a few parents bringing their children with them to workout. The kids would sit on equipment and play with their iPads. I actually remember once walking into the gym and seeing a kid climbing the power rack like a jungle gym (it is an un-monitored 24/7 gym). Although it looked super fun, I can see why kids became banned.

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    Had to google 'Tanner Stage'... well, I'll skip investigating this further - not going to be that uncle. Anyways, great and exhaustive answer, thanks a lot! Let's see how resistant to expert opinions my sister is. – UnbescholtenerBuerger Feb 10 at 13:33
  • "I've read that as soon as kids start doing sports (aged 7 - 8) they can get involved in lifting weights. Obviously strength training may not be as fun as soccer at that age but it does have a lower injury rate." - I'm not so sure about the context you're talking here: Do you mean weightlifting or just strength training? And what do the studies really mean, are they talking about weightlifting or just about strength training with their own body weight? – Marcus Feb 11 at 23:53
  • @Marcus -- I'm referring to strength training in that first sentence, however the lower injury rate study is with respect to both. If you refer to Table 2 on Page 56 of the linked study they show that both "weightlifting" and "weight training" have a lower injury rate than multiple sports. They have weightlifting defined earlier as snatch and clean+jerk. Check out the "learn the movements" article too. It has children as early as 8 learning Olympic weightlifting techniques. All of this is supervised, of course. – C. Lange Feb 12 at 1:15
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The youngest I've seen was a 6 year old girl who did Olympic weightlifting and could lift more than an average teenage boy.That being said she was very well supervised.

Weightlifting consists of thousands of exercises.. 90% of them you can't screw up or injure yourselves.. such as bicep curls or lunges. If you're that worried you can stick to dumbbell and bodyweight exercises.. and gradually move to barbell exercises inside a power rack(with safety bars). Form is very important. For a young age below 12 I wouldn't recommend deadlifting or squatting(although with the right form it's 100% safe) as many people tend to try to lift a lot without using good form.

Medically it's not only safe but recommended for people to exercise or weightlift. Start with higher rep schemes and lower weight with easy to learn exercises. As far as nutrition, the teenage body with all it's hormones create what's similar to steroids naturally in the body. For this reason it's the best time if you want to start weightlifting if you want to get strong. It also increases your bone density and is the only way to do so because after the age of 25 you can't increase your bone density only reduce the loss of it

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  • This answer is very anecdotal. Who was the 6 year-old girl? When and where was this? Any updates? Also, what are your sources for saying that adolescence is "the best time if you want to start weightlifting if you want to get strong"? Citation needed. – Alec Feb 10 at 13:14
  • I would love to citate the hell out of this as there shouldn't be an age restriction on any form of exercise outside of the obvious like a toddler bench pressing. And there are a lot of medical data and research to back this up, as well as a national news story about the 6 year old Olympic weightlifting. The answer is already voted however and any effort on my part would further be a waste of time. – Ace Cabbie Feb 10 at 17:53
  • That's a disappointing stance. I thought you wrote an answer to share knowledge, not to gather arbitrary internet points. – Alec Feb 10 at 19:05
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First of all, in Eastern Europe children are doing weightlifting under strict surveillance. They are never alone in the gym, but an experienced weightlifting coach is always present and corrects them for errors immediately. Also they don't use a lot of weights but they learn perfect movements and it actually looks very nice. It's more like technique training than actual weight lifting...

In general, it is fatal to assume that a 14-year old would be capable of doing his own weightlifting training without any supervision! Therefore, if your 14-year old nephew can afford a good personal trainer or an experienced weightlifter as coach/supervisor, then he could start with weightlifting according to this guidance:

"The popularity of youth resistance training is evidenced by the increasing number of physical educators and youth sport coaches who now include some form of resistance training in their conditioning programs. Despite preconceived concerns associated with youth resistance training, an expanding body of evidence indicates that resistance training can be a safe and effective method of conditioning for children, provided that appropriate training guidelines are followed and qualified supervision is present. [...] The foundation for maximal success in the future is the technical mastery acquired during the early years of training. Although children are in fact capable of learning complex motor movements early in life, the use of high training intensities during this developmental period may adversely affect the outcome of the program. Moderate training intensities (less than 75% of 1 repetition maximum) are appropriate for most young weightlifters." (source)

If no coach can be present all the time, there are many strength training exercises with their own body weight suitable for children and teenagers even without permanent supervision which could be done at home (as usual in accordance to antagonistic muscles training):

  • Pushups & Pull-ups
  • Sit-ups & Back extension ("hyperextension")
  • Side plank "hip-up" & Single-leg side plank
  • Rope climbing & Bench dips
  • Hundreds of exercises with the Thera band

The pull-ups may preferably be executed with a bar in about 2 m height with a soft mat right below. The back extension could easily be performed by lying on the belly, then raise your arms, but without any leg movement involved. Rope climbing is good for the trapezius muscle (similar to pullups) and especially good for the underarms. The dips should best be done with a bench (so they don't fall from the bar), but also a stable chair leaned against a wall would work at home. There are many further variations of pushups and side or back planks (Google for yourself) very suitable for children/teenagers. But I also have to add that even such simple exercises need to be shown to a teenager by an experienced trainer at least once or twice. After that he could do them without supervision, but not without some periodic checks by the coach if they're doing it correctly.

However, if your nephew wants to do weightlifting as a sport, he won't get around a professional coach. Personally, I'd rather send him to wrestling or Judo in order to gain a lot of strength within a short period of time. The advantages of these high-contact martial arts are the techniques he's gonna acquire, and it's much more fun for children than weight lifting (because it's less egocentric and more social). It's no coincidence that weight lifting, wrestling and Judo are the three most popular disciplines in Eastern Europe, Russia and in the Caucasus region: They all involve a lot of technique and are very complex disciplines, not to be learned in one day or two, but only during many years of disciplined training (note: "wrestling" includes also many native wrestling styles like Russian Sambo or Georgian Chidaoba). Btw if the nephew doesn't like martial arts, I'd suggest basketball or soccer because they're highly competitive and very physical as well. And there are much better basketball or soccer coaches in Western Europe than for weight lifting indeed (last note: soccer is better for legs while basketball is better for the upper body).

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