I started lifting when I was about 16 years old. I would say around 15-18 years is when any individual can start lifting weights. Having said that, that doesn’t mean just jumping into heavy squats and deadlifts. There is plenty that a kid, or new lifter should be focusing on that will lead to a great squat and deadlift.
When kids are younger than this, it’s not even a matter of “should they squat” as much as it is time better spent learning technique and mastering their proprioception. Kids should be more focused on body awareness, and being able to take their body through a full range of motion without difficulty. There’s no reason a kid should not be able to get into a full depth squat. If they are playing sports this is even more important. Most sports require being able to generate power from the ground up through their body. Build that skillset. Practice being explosive generating power efficiently.
No matter what your age is, the very first thing you need to be doing is focusing on a full range of motion. The number one issue any lifter gets is usually joint issues and tears because they were using weights that were too heavy and they never took the time to master the full range. This can be done with just a barbell, or even bodyweight.
I highly recommend looking into one of our MAPS programs like Prime or Prime Pro. Take the assessment. Can you get into a full squat without any issues? How does your movement look? Does anything cave in when you squat? Do your shoulders not allow you to press a barbell overhead next in line with your ears? You should be able to comfortably enter these positions for every major compound exercise before adding resistance. If you can’t, the programs mentioned above will provide a program to bring up lagging body parts, or areas where you feel limited in your range.
It isn’t just about safety first either. The individual who masters a full range, will far surpass the lifter who skipped this step, and jumped right into heavy weights. The latter individual will not be maximizing their muscular growth potential and usually ends up being the guys that think they’ve hit their “genetic ceiling”. The reality is, they were never stimulating the muscles properly.
As you graduate from achieving full mobility with little to no weight, now you can slowly start adding weight. I would even suggest keeping the mobility drills you’ve learned along the way and use them as primers before your workouts, or in between sets, just to make sure you are activating the muscles that will be used for that session. This will transfer nicely over to your lifts like squats and deadlifts, as you will be more easily able to cue commonly dormant muscles like the glutes when doing a deadlift.
Look at increasing weight or reps as you progress through your training program as weekly tests and practice sessions. Don’t see it as trying to “outdo” yourself the week before. Instead, see if you’ve mastered your previous week’s weight or reps well enough that you find you can get an extra rep or 5lbs while maintaining that same form.