Weight Training in Youths

Even now I sometimes hear the old myth that children shouldn’t be doing weight training because it stops them growing or damages there bones. I still can’t believe what I’m hearing, so with my blog today I’m going to clear up all the commonly asked questions regarding children and weight training with scientifically proven research.

Q. Will it damage the epiphysis (growth plates), and thus stunt my child’s growth?

A. The belief that resistance training damages the growth plates is very much a back dated theory. Research has shown that in fact resistance training aids the bone’s development. Malina et al., (2004) showed that the mechanical stress placed on developing growth plates from weight bearing exercise are actually essential for bone formation and growth. The belief of the damage to the epiphysis was due the injuries that were not properly explored, the majority of the injuries to the epiphysis have been found to be due to poor education of the child. This lack of education leads to improper lifting techniques, insufficient recovery strategies, and lack of qualified adult supervision. Thus by placing a child in an environment with a fully qualified strength and conditioning coach supervising all gym sessions, teaching weight lifting technique from a young age, and educating them on the nutrition requirements pre and post training sessions this will not occur. Falk and Eliakim (2003) also illustrated via scientific evidence that resistance training has no detrimental impact upon a child’s linear growth. Therefore the use of resistance training can only be of benefit when done in a co-ordinated environment.

Q. I have heard it causes stress fractures to young bones?

A. Weight training alone if done properly with the correct technique and within one’s limits will not cause a stress fracture, it will in fact increase the bone mineral density (Behn et al., 2008) thus strengthening the structure and provide greater support for the musculoskeletal system when it is placed under a stressful environment (i.e. during sport). Stress fractures usually occur due to chronic repetitive stress which is placed upon the musculoskeletal system, whatever sporting activity undertaken from lifting weights to a simple run places stress upon the musculoskeletal system. Thus appropriate rest periods, good nutrition, and a periodised structure to training programmes should be implemented to reduce the risk of a stress fracture occurring.

 Q. Will it cause an injury that will affect other physical activity?

A. The majority of injuries that occur to adolescents during weight sessions are because of a lack of knowledge and understanding of safe weight training. This includes the use of poor technique when lifting, excessive loading, poorly designed equipment, and/or lack of adult supervision (Faigenbaum et al., 1996). These are all controllable variables, so prior to commencing weight training you should make sure the equipment and facilities are safe and of good quality, you have the supervision of a fully qualified strength and conditioning coaches, nutritional plans, and the teaching of proper techniques with progressive levels. This educates your child in undertaking resistance training programmes safely which substantially reduces the risk of an injury occurring.

Q. What’s the purpose of weight training? How will it benefit my child?

A. Weight training is an important component for the overall conditioning and preparation to play sports. Weight training has been shown to increase strength (Kraemer et al., 1989), jump height (Falk and Mor, 1996), sprint ability (Williams, 1991), and functional biomechanics (Hewett, Myer, and Ford, 2005). These physical improvements can allow them to prosper in physically demanding sports such as football, rugby, basketball, etc. Poor conditioning also plays a primary role in sport related injuries in youth, because they are ill prepared for the physical demands of sport practice and competition. Weight training acts as an injury prevention tool because it strengthens the supporting structures (ligaments, tendons, and bones); it enhances the ability for the muscle to absorb energy prior to failure, and also develops muscle balance around joints. Cahill and Griffith (1978) incorporated resistance training into preseason conditioning for adolescent football teams over four seasons and reported a reduction in overall knee injuries, including the incidence of knee injuries that required surgery. Another study performed by Heiser et al., (1984) also implemented resistance training into young footballers routines and found that it reduced the risk of hamstring strains. So there is clear evidence which demonstrates that weight training reduces injury risks in youth football, this is because football is a very physically demanding sport which places a great deal of stress upon one’s musculoskeletal system and with adolescents who’s musculoskeletal system is not yet fully developed the strengthening of there all round structures aids in their ability to cope with this stress. These findings can also be transferred to other youth sports. There are also mental and social benefits in undertaking weight programmes, because it releases endorphins which leave a lasting feeling of elation and aids in boosting self-esteem and confidence.

Q. How do you know when they are ready to start? Is there an appropriate age?

A. There is not a specific age when weight lifting becomes appropriate, functional competence should dictate whether a child performs loaded exercises. However there are specific age ranges that can be optimal for muscular adaptations from weight training due to increases in circulating hormones. At the ages of 13-14 a child will usually hit Peak Height Velocity (PHV) this is when a child is growing at their fastest rate. 12 months post this period Peak Weight Velocity (PWV) occurs and this is when meaningful gains in size and strength can occur due to greater levels of circulating testosterone (Kraemer et al., 1989). Preparation for this window of opportunity should begin during preadolescents (before a child hits their PHV). Lubans et al., 2010 showed that preadolescence provides an optimal window to train and develop long lasting fundamental movement skills, so is the ideal time to develop co-ordination and skill technique to perform weightlifting techniques correctly. Once a child has the appropriate technique and has matured physically, mentally and socially loaded exercises can be introduced.

I hope the above Q & A clears up the old myth about the dangers of weight lifting in youth. The only dangers come from controllable variables such as poor teaching, poor equipment, or poor planning. MC Peak Performance & Fitness can control those variables and provide the undoubted performance, health and psycho-social benefits for your child from weightlifting.

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About the Author

Matteo

Matteo graduated from the University of Bath with a bachelor’s degree in Sport and Exercise Science, providing him with the initial foundations of his training philosophy. He then went on to work within elite sports for 4 years as a Strength & Conditioning coach at Southampton and Arsenal Football Clubs. Wanting to have a greater impact across the general population Matteo founded MC Peak Performance & Fitness with an aim to deliver elite training services to all.

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