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Does Lifting Weights Stunt Growth?

Here at Dioxyme, one question we hear a lot from parents of young athletes is “Does lifting weights stunt growth?”  It’s a common concern and one that's ultimately kept many children and adolescents out of the weight room over the years.  

More specifically, a lot of the wariness surrounding youth weight lifting stems from the fear of damaging the epiphyseal growth plate (EGP).  The EGP actually refers to the regions that make up both ends of the long bones in the human skeleton.  It's the primary mechanism through which your bones grow in length -- bone growth is a continuous process that generally comes to a conclusion in the mid-to-late teens for most people.  

Amongst some members of the fitness community, there is a general belief that resistance training can weaken or even damage the EGP, causing the bones of children and adolescents to stop growing prematurely.  The only problem with this assumption is that there’s actually no scientific evidence to back it up.

Does Lifting Weights Stunt Growth: What Does the Science?

Most studies have actually concluded that with the proper supervision, equipment, and training protocol, lifting weights can be just as safe for children as any other type of physical activity. (1)

For example, a 2012 comprehensive review concluded that “there is no evidence indicating that weightlifting, and more generally resistance training, is especially injurious to the epiphyses or has a direct correlation with reductions in eventual growth height in young athletes.” (2)

Another review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine failed to find a single case of a growth plate injury occurring in studies where the training procedures were monitored and guided by professionals. (3)

In the rare instances in which a growth plate injury was reported, the reviewers ultimately found no correlation between the injury and the training program.  They ultimately concluded that there is “no evidence that resistance training will negatively impact growth in height during childhood and adolescence”.

Benefits of Lifting Weights for Children and Adolescents

So does lifting weights stunt growth? Well, based on what scientists have found up until this point, it's pretty clear that the answer is no.

Not only is there little evidence to support the argument that lifting weights can stunt growth, but exercise scientists are in general agreement that resistance training can actually have several benefits for growing children, both athletes and otherwise. (4)

1. Build Strength

Perhaps the most obvious benefit of weight lifting for kids is not surprisingly, building strength and power.  For young athletes especially, developing strength and explosiveness can be one of the easiest ways to take their games to the next level.  

Numerous studies have observed that children and adolescents who partook in regular resistance training, on average, demonstrated significantly greater increases in strength compared to those who were not involved in any type of weight lifting program.(5)(6)(7)

For instance, over the course of one relatively short-term study -- training lasted for around 8 weeks in most studies -- adolescent participants experienced strength gains of about 30% on average, which is pretty significant, especially considering the time frame. (8) 

2. Reduce the Risk of Sports-Related Injuries

Sports-related injuries are something that just about every young athlete has to deal with, no matter what sport they’re involved in.  The reality is, you can never totally eliminate the risk of injury if your child is involved in sports, but what you can do, is minimize the risk factors.

In young athletes, one of the leading causes of injury stems from muscle imbalances.  The core, in particular, is an area that is underdeveloped in many children and adolescents.  Core strength is vital in activities like running and jumping -- your core plays a central role in keeping the top half of your body stabilized over the bottom half. 

Having a weak or underdeveloped core ultimately increases the likelihood of experiencing strains, sprains, and tears all throughout your body, especially as your muscles become fatigued. (9)

Bone strength is another factor that can make children susceptible to injury.  Children with low bone mineral density are at an increased risk of experiencing bone fractures during physical activity.  However, numerous studies have demonstrated that with appropriate nutritional and training guidelines in place, significant increases in bone mineral density were observed in both children and adolescents. (10)(11) 

Ultimately, researchers have observed as much as a 50% reduction in the occurrence of sports-related injuries in cases where participants partook in well-designed resistance training programs. (12)

3. Improve Motor Skills

Plenty of researchers have also observed that weight lifting (along with other forms of resistance training) can help to improve certain motor skill performances like running and jumping in children and adolescents. (13)(14) 

Making improvements to important motor skills can ultimately have plenty of utility for your child both within and outside the world of sports.  Ultimately, the goal is to focus on performing movements that have a practical application given the child's particular needs, whatever they may be.    

4. Improve Mental Health

Improvements across a number of different mental health indicators have been widely observed in adults who took up weight lifting.  While there hasn't been nearly as much research exploring whether or not the same is true for children and adolescents, a limited amount of evidence does suggest that resistance training may help to improve psychological well-being in kids as well as adults. (15)  

for most children, it’s really a matter of building and improving their self-esteem.  For instance, one study observed that children who partook in regular physical activity (including resistance training) on average saw significantly greater improvements in mood, as well as, overall psychological well-being over the course of the trial. (16) 

5. Develop Healthy Habits For Later in Life

Getting your child into weight lifting early on can also have plenty of benefits later in life.  Many people become increasingly sedentary as they age, which raises the risk of heart disease, as well as, several other life-threatening conditions.  

However, helping your kid to develop a healthy understanding and appreciation for weight training early in life can help turn it into a life-long practice.

How to Lift Weights Safely

The biggest risks involved in lifting weights during childhood and adolescence mainly have to do with inexperience.  Weight lifting injuries are most likely to occur in instances when you’re using dangerous or inappropriate equipment, lifting excessive amounts of weight, performing exercises with bad form, or not getting adequate amounts of rest and recovery. (17)  

As such, the best way to keep the risks at a minimum in your child’s early days of lifting is to have them work with a professional when they’re training.  With proper guidance and instruction, you can eliminate many of the factors that often cause training-related injuries at the youth level. 

Finding a certified trainer or coach to work with and learn basic training principles from is really the only way to make sure that your child is training safely and effectively when they’re starting out.  

In general, most experimental research has demonstrated that 2-3 days a week of training over the course of 8 - 12 weeks was enough to see significant strength and mobility improvements in most kids and adolescents.(18) 

Again, things like exercise selections and training volume are going to vary from coach to coach and training program to training program but in general, the less experience your child has, the more conservative the training program will be.  

Furthermore, most strength training programs regardless of your child’s experience level, are going to gradually increase the training volume as (s)he progresses throughout the program -- that means they’ll be starting out with lighter weights and fewer sets at the beginning of the program and working their way up as it progresses.      

Wrap Up

Not only doesn't there appear to be any evidence to support the argument that weight lifting stunts growth, but most research actually shows that lifting weights during childhood and adolescence can actually be beneficial in a number of ways. 

From building strength and developing important motor skills to improving the psychological well-being of children and adolescents, researchers have identified a number of potentially positive applications for resistance training at the youth level.     

In order to keep the risk of training-related injuries at a minimum, however, it’s important that your child is guided and supervised by an experienced professional when (s)he is getting started out in the weight room.  

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