If your little girl has expressed an interest in “getting muscles,” what should you do?

First off, what you should NEVER do is take this new interest to mean that your young daughter is heading towards an eating disorder.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a little girl flexing her biceps,” says Dr. Lisa Lewis, MD, a board certified pediatrician in Fort Worth, Texas, and author of “Feed the Baby Hummus, Pediatrician-Backed Secrets from Cultures Around the World.”

“Often, muscular arms are associated with boys,” continues Dr. Lewis, who also believes that “the desire for muscles should not be predictive for an eating disorder.

“Eating disorders are much more complicated than desiring strong arms.”

If a young girl wants muscles, she probably already knows she has to eat adequately to get them rather than starve herself.

Young girls who are at risk for a starvation-based eating disorder are not wanting to get muscles. They’re wanting stick arms.

Secondly, children cannot bulk up. This is medically impossible. Even little boys cannot bulk up. Bulking up requires the ability to lift very heavy weights.

Young children are not capable of lifting heavy weights. I’ve seen men easily deadlifting 225 pounds for repetitions – lanky-built men.

So even the ability to lift 225 pounds off the floor isn’t enough to bulk up an adult—who has much more muscle and testosterone than a child.

So hopefully by now, the idea that young kids can bulk up is cleared out of your head.

When I was a personal trainer at a health club, the topic of bulking up surfaced every now and then. I told women that they just don’t have enough testosterone and base muscle mass to bulk up.

Certainly, a child has even LESS base muscle and testosterone (yes, females produce testosterone).

Encourage Your Young Daughter to Get Muscles if She Expresses this Interest

Just make sure that her expectations are realistic.

Exercising with light dumbbells or tension bands will not stunt her growth.

But smoking can stunt growth. What may very well deter your daughter from one day lighting up her first cigarette is a body that’s trained and fit from strength workouts.

With obesity affecting so many children, you should feel very encouraged that your young daughter wants to “grow muscles.”

Some pediatricians are okay with children strength training as young as seven or eight years of age.

The child should be mature enough to follow directions for proper technique. This can be a fun activity for both mother and daughter.

“My training is that children should not lift weights before puberty,” says Dr. Lewis. “I agree that many sports and exercises build strong arms.

“As long as there are no negative body image messages associated with building arm muscle (comparing arms with other children, for example), I see no problem with a girl wanting to build arm muscle at any age.”

What if your daughter is only seven or eight and has expressed an interest in “getting muscles”?

Young kids already lift weights:

  • They give each other piggy-back rides.
  • They take out the garbage, carry grocery bags, lift up family pets, bowl and have been known to help their parents rearrange furniture.

A young child who strength trains will lower the risk of injuring herself when she helps with rearranging the furniture, shoveling snow or dragging around her suitcase for the two-week visit to her grandparents.

If your little girl actually says she wants “big” muscles, keep in mind that in her young mind, “big” probably mean something akin to the young girl’s in the image below.

Guidelines for Parents

• Consider hiring a personal trainer, particularly one with youth training experience.

• See if the local rec center offers strength training for children.

• Make sure your little girl understands that there will be no strength training two days in a row of the same muscle groups.

• Impress upon mastering form before using a resistance that’s challenging.

• Supervise at all times.

• Precede strength training sessions with five to 10 minutes of aerobics.

• Sets can consist of 12 to 15 repetitions.

• Medicine balls, pushups and pull-ups count as weight training.

• Dumbbells as light as one pound are sold, and will be more enthralling for a young girl to work with than same-weight soup cans.

• Don’t have an in-your-face coaching attitude if you’re their trainer. Your little girl wants her muscles to show, and acting militant is not necessary to achieve this goal.

Dr. Lewis has been a practicing pediatrician for 25+ years. She completed her pediatrics residency at Texas A&M University Health Science Center, Scott and White Memorial Hospital where she served as chief resident.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


Top image: Shutterstock/Just dance
Source: mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/strength-training/art-20047758?pg=2