Dallas So your pee-wee wants to lift weights to get in shape for football. Or to stay fit. Or to have fun. Whatever the reason, it seems that children younger than 14 are becoming more active, particularly in regard to building muscle through weight training.
But when is it safe for a child to start lifting weights, and can it hurt their body's development to start too early? Where can a child go to pump the iron?
Dr. Maureen Finnegan, associate professor and an expert in child orthopedics at University of Texas-Southwestern Medical School, dismisses the notion that beginning to lift weights at a young age can seriously damage physical development.
"If the child is weightlifting properly, I don't think that lifting weights can harm," she says.
"The danger comes around the activity, like if a child drops a weight on his or her foot and breaks it."
Stephanie Wells, director of fitness at the YMCA at White Rock, Texas, said she believed lifting weights could be a liberating experience for a child.
"It's a phenomenal thing," she says. "Kids get active this way and get involved instead of sitting at home and watching television."
Crunch Time, the boys fitness class at the YMCA at White Rock, meets once a week year-round.
The hourlong class for boys ages 7 to 14 usually starts with a warm-up, typically a game to get the boys motivated to work.
"I like all the races and dodgeball," says Jorge Reyes, 10. "They're really fun."
After the warm up, instructor Gene Martinez leads the boys to a small corner of the gym and puts them on weightlifting machines. The equipment, manufactured by Pace, uses hydraulics and limits the kids' exertion.
"The Pace machines are designed with older people in mind," says Martinez, who also is a personal trainer at the YMCA. "So they're really perfect for the boys to use. With these machines you never have to worry about kids dropping weights, because they're built on resistance."
Rachel Obranovich, a fitness instructor for the YMCA and instructor of the girls version of the class, Step Into the Groove, says that the key to getting a young person to work out is to allow them to have fun doing it.
"I think it's basically a good excuse to get active," she says. "We try to do things that are fun, like games and kickboxing."