What Age Can My Kid Go to the Gym?

child working out at the gym

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It’s no secret that kids need time to move their bodies for their health. After all, it’s why playgrounds exist! But how soon is too soon to bring your child to the gym if they want to lift weights like their parents, clock cardio during cold winters, or simply break a sweat with their friends?

“Cardio can be started at any age,” says Alfred Atanda, MD, pediatric orthopedic surgeon and director of the Center for Sports Medicine at Nemours Children’s Health, Delaware Valley. Bodyweight training, like planks, pushups, and sit-ups, is also age-agnostic—assuming your child is into it, he adds. 

Heavier weight-lifting should be reserved for teens since younger kids have more fragile bones and a greater risk of injury, Dr. Atanda emphasizes. However, children as young as 7 or 8 years old can benefit from exercising in a structured setting—as long as they’re not being forced to work out for weight loss or body image improvement, says Dr. Mark Mandel, MD, a pediatrician based in Montvale, New Jersey.

As for safety, just make sure your child's workout is supervised. “The old warning about not letting physically immature adolescents do [any] strength training has fallen by the wayside,” Dr. Mandel says. 

If your child has been asking for their first ever gym membership, read on to find out whether they’re ready, how to ensure their workout sessions are age-appropriate, and how to help them develop a healthy relationship with exercise. 

Why Kids Benefit from Going to the Gym 

Kids who take part in regular physical activity can improve their bone and muscle strength while reducing the risk of chronic health conditions ranging from cancer and heart disease to high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.

What’s more, a regular exercise routine can improve a child’s psychosocial wellbeing and boost their moods to help manage depression and anxiety, says Dr. Mandel. Research suggests that physical activity can also improve attention span, memory, and coping mechanisms due to increases in blood flow, oxygenation, brain tissue volume, development of nerve connections, and neural network density.

Just keep in mind that most medical literature doesn’t distinguish between physical activity performed in and outside of gym settings. Exercise doesn’t have to take place in an official gym to be effective. Sans gym membership, kids can achieve similar benefits by playing team sports, taking classes such as dance or swim, or simply chasing the dog around the yard.

Signs Your Kid Is Ready to Start Going to the Gym 

Children in first or second grade who don’t move much and choose not to participate in team sports can be ready to go to the gym under the supervision of an experienced exercise professional, says Dr. Mandel. 

If grade school sounds too early, think again. “We know from all sorts of behavioral research that when kids start doing something at an earlier age, it becomes a general habit—kids who start to exercise early are more likely to stick with it than when they begin later in life,” says Meghan Walls, PsyD, a pediatric psychologist at Nemours Children’s Health, Delaware Valley. “We want them to get into it and make sure they have these healthy habits from an early age.”

Again, that’s not to say you need to bring your child to the gym. “They should go if it’s enjoyable and gets them out of a sedentary lifestyle,” Dr. Mandel adds.

One caveat: If your child is concerned or self-conscious about their weight, parents would do better to amp up their activity levels through shared activities. This might include taking family walks, which can feel more body-positive than signing a child up for a gym membership, Dr. Walls says. 

Another thing to consider is the responsibility level of your child. “Psychologically, it’s kid-dependent,” explains Dr. Walls, noting that children's brains are still developing, so they might be more likely to take risks—meaning the gym could potentially be a dangerous environment for them. “The real question is, how responsible is your child? Only you know the answer.” 

If a child of any age is interested in getting a gym membership, discuss their plans upfront: What will they do when they get there? How often do they want to go? Can they work with a trainer who has a body-positive approach? If their plans seem wishy-washy, it may be wise to supervise them at the gym or guide them toward more organized physical activities such as classes or team sports

Safety Considerations for Kids Who Work Out 

While experts once believed that excessive strength training could damage growth plates, that's no longer the case. “It’s proven to be very, very rare, as long as the weight program is done carefully and run by someone who knows what they are doing,” says Dr. Mandel. In other words? “It’s not as risky as it was once thought to be.”

Here are some factors for you and your child’s trainer to consider.


Dr. Atanda recommends individualized training plans rather than organized programs, such as CrossFit, where everyone is expected to perform a similar workout.

“You want to tailor the fitness program to the individual based on their size, cognitive development, strengths, weaknesses, and goals since one [child] can do things another can’t,” Dr. Atanda says. “And make sure it’s focused on personal achievement and development, not beating the person next to you, which can lead a child to push themself beyond their body’s capability.” 


Any workout equipment should be both size and age-appropriate. For example, if a child can’t reach the pedals of a stationary bike, an elliptical, treadmill, or stair-stepper may be a better bet. As long as cardio is fun and non-repetitive—which could lead to overuse injury—it can be kid-appropriate.

The safest way to begin strength training is through bodyweight exercises like push-ups, squats, and sit-ups, performed with a focus on form—and no extra weight at all. Resistance bands and light free-weights with low rep sets can be incorporated later to increase the intensity and build strength.


Strength-training should be supervised, Dr. Mandel says, meaning a parent or trainer should keep tabs on reps for gradual progression, and ensure proper form and use of equipment to help prevent common (but mostly avoidable) injuries, like dropping a weight on a foot. 

When trying out new exercises, you or a qualified trainer should demonstrate the exercise, watch the child perform it, and monitor their form, says Dr. Atanda. 

Nutrition and Hydration

Make sure your child eats something light and nutritious before their workout, like a piece of fruit or protein bar, and that they sip water throughout the exercise session to stay hydrated. It might sound like common sense, but kids may need a nudge, Dr. Atanda says. 

Rest and Recovery 

Unlike teens and adults, kids might need to be reminded to take breaks during grueling exercise sessions—and that includes breaks from structured programming. “Drilling into them for an hour may not be optimal for their cognitive development and could detract from how much fun they’ll derive out of it,” says Dr. Atanda.

Even if your child asks to exercise every day, make sure they take rest days between strength-training sessions to ensure proper recovery.


Certain lung or heart conditions—such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an uncommon but not entirely rare condition—preclude strength training, Dr. Mandel notes. Be sure to check with your child's pediatrician or healthcare provider before they embark on a new fitness routine.

How to Choose the Best Gym for Your Kids 

Start by searching for a gym that is welcoming to adolescents, meaning that they permit young people to hold memberships and also employ trainers who are both certified and experienced working with children.

Bonus points if your gym offers fitness classes geared toward kids. Setting out to achieve a common goal with peers isn’t just motivating, says Dr. Walls. “It can feel even more tangible than a fitness goal, gives kids a sense of accomplishment, and makes them feel good,” she says.

If you're signing your child up for a group class, make sure that they are geared toward children; otherwise, individual training would likely be the better approach. Before going to a group class, be sure that your child knows that everyone is different—the person next to them might be able to do more pushups, and that's OK.

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Gym 

Even if you choose the very best gym for your child, the way you talk about it could make or break their earliest experiences with exercise.

“We need to be careful about the language we use to talk about exercise around little kids,” says Dr. Walls. “The way we phrase things matters. We don’t want them to think of going to the gym as an obligation because they ate a big dinner and need to work it off.” 

Instead, she recommends referring to exercise as a fun activity we do to get stronger, be healthier, and make our bodies feel good. It's important to maintain positive feelings around exercise so it never feels like just a means to lose weight or gain muscle.

Also helpful: Giving your gym-bound kids a gentle reminder that the images they see in on social media and in magazines are often air-brushed and unrealistic. “You don’t want your 12-year-old trying to look like someone on Instagram with 80 filters whose job it is to look good,” says Dr. Walls. 

And while you should, when possible, vet trainers and fitness instructors by sitting in on sessions to see how they speak around your child, “The two or three things your child hears in a gym setting won’t have as big of an impact as the 50 things they hear at home,” points out Dr. Walls. “How you talk about exercise in your house is the most important part. If mom is talking about losing the last five pounds and dad is talking about bulking up before summer, they contribute to an inner voice that will reverberate back to the child every day.” 

A Word from Verywell

At the end of the day, any regular form of movement can deliver health benefits beginning at a young age—no gym membership is required. If your child expresses interest in going to the gym to burn off energy or exercise with friends, ensure they do so in a gym that welcomes their demographic and provides proper supervision (or allows you to tag along).

Additionally, be sure to frame exercise as an enjoyable way to move your body, improve your health, and feel good—not a means to achieve certain aesthetic results. “The important thing,” Dr. Mandel says, “is that [exercise] is age-appropriate and fun.”

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. Leppänen M, Pasanen K, Clarsen B, et al. Overuse injuries are prevalent in children’s competitive football: a prospective study using the OSTRC Overuse Injury QuestionnaireBr J Sports Med. 2019;53(3):165-171. DOI:10.1136/bjsports-2018-099218

  5. Nemours Kids Health. Strength Training.

  6. Weissler Snir A, Connelly KA, Goodman JM, Dorian D, Dorian P. Exercise in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: restrict or rethink. American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology. 2021;320(5):H2101-H2111. DOI:10.1152/ajpheart.00850.2020

By Elizabeth Narins
Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, editor, and social media strategist whose favorite workout is chasing her toddler. Her work has been published by Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Parents, Health, Bustle, and more.