Barbell Basics: Know When to Lift

Two young sporty women exercising lunges with dumbbells at the gym.

As the landscape of youth and high school athletics continues to get more and more competitive each year, many parents might be wondering how soon is too soon for their children to begin taking part in strength and conditioning programs.

“If you’re looking at children ages eight to 14 who are interested in strength training, I think body weight exercises (such as push-ups and squats with no weights) are great to develop a foundation for strength,” said Tom Buehler, CHI Health certified athletic trainer. “We want to focus on developing the small muscle groups that stabilize the joints and bony structures so that there’s not excessive movement when the athlete starts getting into heavier strength in high school and college years.”

Buehler said learning proper form and technique is the first step. For incoming freshmen and inexperienced student athletes, Buehler starts their training with light weights and monitors their form before even considering increasing their work load.

Frequency is also an important concept in weight training. Proper rest is essential for making gains and overtraining can actually have adverse effects, including chronic fatigue, loss of strength and muscle pain.

For beginners, Buehler recommends weight training just two days per week. That number can be increased to three days a week for most high school athletes and four times a week for experienced lifters and college-level athletes.

Buehler said a good guideline is to give a heavily trained muscle (your legs after a session of heavy squats,for example) 72 hours of recovery time.