“Lifting weights will stunt your growth!” That is the most common myth about weight lifting in adolescents that I heard growing up, and still hear today. There are a number of other significant concerns parents have regarding injuries and long term effects of children and teenagers lifting weights. Ultimately, strength training is similar to all other athletic endeavors; there is an inherent risk of injury participation. When it comes to children, it is imperative that the number one priority is the safety of the child. Here are a few common questions and answers regarding lifting weights and children:
- Is it safe? That is the obvious 1st questions, and the answer is Yes, when done properly. That means close supervision by a skilled instructor focusing on proper technique. Multiple studies have been done looking at the causes of injury to children and adolescents lifting weights, and the majority of serious injuries occur in unsupervised environments such as home gyms. With proper education and supervision, weight lifting is safe in children and teenagers.
- When should they start? Most children continue to develop their postural and balance skills until 7-8 years old. Completion of that is a reasonable starting point. Early on, the focus should be on body weight and light resistance exercises to develop proper technique and good core strength. All major muscle groups should be included. Explosive and maximal lifts should be avoided until full closure of the growth plates.
- What are reasonable goals? Faster, stronger and bigger are the obvious answers. However, realistic expectations must be set based on the age of the individual. Before puberty, significant gains in strength can be seen as the body learns how to recruit more muscles and move more efficiently. However, corresponding growth of the muscles will not be seen. The cosmetic benefit of bigger muscles does not occur until the hormonal changes of puberty. Also, studies have not yet proven that gains in strength from training will automatically translate into improved performance in a particular sport.
- And Don’t Forget the Basics! Ok, that’s not technically a question, but just like with adults, parents have to follow some basic principles for their kids. A full medical examination should be done before starting any exercise program (just like those annoying forms you have to fill out for the schools every year!). Make sure to include a 10-15 minute warm up/cool down for all workouts. Have any injury properly evaluated before returning to working out. And particularly this time of year, make sure to consume adequate fluids.
Sports and activities are a vital part of a child’s life. They help maintain good health, develop social skills and teach valuable lessons that will be utilized throughout life. Strength training can be an outstanding option for children and adolescents when done in a safe environment with proper education and supervision.