There is a widely held belief that weights training, when performed during puberty/adolescence, can stunt ones growth by damaging their growth plates. Because of this, it is suggested that children and adolescents should only perform body weight exercises and not use any external loading (dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells) during this time of their life.
This common belief has zero evidence to support it. Many studies have looked at this exact topic and found that weights training has NO negative impact on skeletal growth/maturation:
“Current research indicates that resistance training can be a safe, effective and worthwhile activity for children and adolescents” (Figenbaum and Myer, 2012)
“several studies provide consistent findings supporting the benefits of repeated, intense physical efforts in young subjects. Improved motor skills and body composition, in terms of increased fat free mass, reduced fat mass and enhanced bone health, have been extensively documented, especially if sport practice began early, when the subjects were pubescent. It can be therefore concluded that strength training is a relatively safe and healthy practice for children and adolescents” (Barbieri and Zaccagni, 2013)
“(Resistance training programs) are relatively safe and do not negatively impact growth and maturation of pre- and early-pubertal youth.” (Malina, 2006)
“Few studies have examined the long-term effect of resistance training on growth. The few which have, found that, contrary to the common misconception that resistance training may retard growth. Scientific evidence indicates that resistance training results in increased serum IGF-I and that there is no detrimental effect on linear growth.” (Falk and Eliakim, 2003)
Instead, the research suggests that when resistance training is programmed appropriately and performed with good technique that it actually provides numerous BENEFITS for youth athletes. Some of these benefits include:
- increased strength, speed and power
- improved body composition
- STRONGER bones
- a REDUCTION in injury rates
Unfortunately, this misconception about weights training often comes from well-meaning parents who don’t realise that sport itself subjects their children’s bones to forces that FAR exceed that found in the weight room (from jumping/landing, sprinting and through impacts in contact sports like rugby). So if you ban your kid from the gym but don’t ban them from team sports, it makes very little sense from a bone stress point of view.
What’s the youngest age a child can start resistance training then? The Australian Strength and Conditioning Association, in their 2018 Position Stand on Resistance Training for Children and Youth, state that:
“The youngest a child should commence resistance training is at 6 years of age provided they have the maturity to follow clear instructions and an appreciation of the dangers present when training.”
So if you can follow instructions, and understand the inherent dangers of being in a gym environment:
- get in the gym
- get a good program written by an experienced strength and conditioning coach
- learn correct technique under the watchful eye of a good coach
- and build strength!