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When should my son/daughter start weight training, both resistance/bodyweight training, and lifting weights? Should boys start at a different time than girls? How often should a highschool swimmer lift weights?--Terrance W. Houston, Tx
Response from Braden K.,
Swim Coach, Site founder---
Lifting weights is a very important topic for swimmers. The common misconception is that lifting weights at a young age can stunt a person’s growth. A simple Google search will show that this theory has been disproven. The problem with starting weights at a young age is that children are more prone to injury, especially when they are not properly instructed or supervised on technique and appropriate weight limits. An injury at a young age before they have reached physical maturity can cause them long-term health problems.
Thus the key to any sort of weight training at a young age is ensuring proper instruction. This doesn’t mean Dad repeating what he was told by his high school football coach 15 years ago. Any weight program means that a child should be taught, and supervised EVERY TIME by a professional.
Despite these new rules for weight-lifting in children, I still do not recommend that swimmers do so at any young age. Swimmers’ joints, especially their shoulders, receive too much repetitive-use stress as it is to require any additional strain from weight lifting. Furthermore, young swimmers stand to receive much more benefit from spending the same time perfecting their technique than they will from gaining weights.
Bob Bowman, the former coach at the University of Michigan, and Michael Phelps’ personal coach, did not have Phelps start weight training until 2005, when he was 19 years old, and after he won 6 gold medals in Athens. This is an indicator of the low importance that Bowman, one of the best coaches in the world, places on weight training at a young age.
If you and your swimmer decide to start weight training in high school, it is important to focus on high repetitions at low weights. “Maxing out,” like football players are wont to do, creates large bulky muscles and can limit a swimmer’s range of motion. Swimmers instead should focus on building long, lean muscles with lots of muscular endurance. Weight training should also focus a lot on the core muscles (abdominals, lower back) and leg muscles, and not be as focused on the upper body. Probably 3 weight sessions a week is sufficient for a high school swimmer who is swimming at least 5 practices a week.