What’s the youngest a child can learn how to deadlift?
There is no research on this, so any fitness expert’s take on this is going to be based on anecdotal evidence.
Young children already do the deadlift. Watch a young child pick something off the floor.
Typically they remain somewhat upright and bend their legs to get their hands closer to the object they want to pick up.
The exercise that we know as the deadlift is called such because the object that’s being picked up (barbell) is in a dead position.
If a young child picks something off the floor or ground that has some weight to it, such as a plastic truck full of sand, a pail of sand, a bucket of marbles, the family cat, a bag of dog food, etc., that child is literally performing a deadlift.
So let’s replace that bag of dog food, bird seed, wood chips, box of comic books, etc., with a 20 pound barbell.
Then toss in some instructions on proper technique (don’t round the back, foot and hand position), and you’re on your way to teaching a child at a very young age to perform a barbell deadlift.
What Is Too Young?
If a child is mobile enough to walk without falling, he can learn to barbell deadlift, though this doesn’t mean have a two-year-old try to pick a 20 pound barbell off the floor on her first day of training.
You can buy plastic barbells and plastic or sponge plates to physically and psychologically prime your toddler and preschooler into the art of deadlifting with real weight (“real” to them would be 10 pounds to start).
Remember, the ability to lift a weight is made easier by the shape of the weight and the technique used.
For instance, a woman may be able to deadlift a 135 pound barbell, but be incapable of picking a 70 pound crate off the floor—simply due to the shape of the crate and how its shape puts her body into a non-efficient lifting position.
Likewise, a preschooler can’t pick a 20 pound box of books off the floor, but can be taught how to pick up a 20 pound barbell via the deadlift technique. But again, don’t do this on the first day of training.
When training very young children in the deadlift, the goal should not be maximal weight loads, but rather, technique and psychological priming.
If very young children are properly trained at deadlifting loads for at least eight repetitions, this will help prevent injury when they DO suddenly find themselves trying to lift the family dog, a younger sibling or a big sack of bird feed off the floor.
Deadlifting will not encourage young kids to try risky lifting maneuvers any more than swimming lessons will encourage children to attempt to swim dangerous rapids.
Deadlifting will not stunt growth.
However, if a child is encouraged to develop a passion for any kind of weightlifting, this will discourage them from ever taking up smoking—which DOES stunt growth.
A passion for strength training will also motivate kids to eat more healthier foods like vegetables and whole grains; a malnourished body that subsists on a lot of soda, chips and candy is more likely to fall short of its total growth potential.
If your young child wants to learn how to deadlift, he or she is not too young to get started.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.