Does Weight Lifting Stunt Growth?
Weight lifting is synonymous to strength training and resistance training; it is an important fundamental of every exercise program. Whether you are looking to lose weight, maintain your desired body shape and size or build muscle, adding weight lifting to your exercise routine will help you achieve your goals. While the benefits of weight training hold true to adults, there are some concerns of weight lifting to a growing body or in a young athlete.
There are many questions that need to be answered before a young athlete begins a weight lifting routine. This article will tackle those questions by examining what science says.
Does Weight Lifting Stunt Growth?
This is one of the major concerns that young athletes and their parents have. But according to research, it is a myth that weight lifting causes stunted growth.
This myth is believed to have originated from a report that examined children living in the remote areas of Japan in 1964. The report indicated that the children who did heavy labor were abnormally short. However, the children who were examined in this report worked in mountainous villages and were severely overworked and did not maintain proper nutrition.
After the report, it was speculated that strength training damaged the epiphyseal plates also known as growth plates which are responsible for the growth of bones in children. They are located at the end of the bones and they regenerate and divide throughout the development stage forming new bones in the process. The regeneration process stops when one gets to their full height. Worries about the damage of epiphyseal plates due to the impact of weight lifting on the joints and bones fueled the speculations that weight lifting could lead to stunted growth but this belief was not based on any specific findings.
Contrary to this belief, research has proven that weight lifting improves the bone mass density of a young athlete. This helps avoid osteoporosis, a common health condition that makes the bones lose their mineral mass and become spongy and brittle. This condition affects millions of people. Due to inadequate calcium in the body, the body begins to draw calcium from the bones. This condition is worsened by sub optimal bone mass level due to inactivity.
Weight training leads to build up of calcium in the bones and by exercising at an early age, children makes their bones strong enough to fight osteoporosis.
According to science, weight training at a young age has a positive effect on one’s bone growth and health.
Does Weight Lifting Increase the Chances of Injury in Young Athletes?
Another common concern is that children can easily get injured when they participate in weight training. But, according to research, a young athlete is at no greater risk of injury than an adult participating in the same exercise. In fact weight training prepares children who plan to participate in sports and decreases the risk to sport related injuries.
Benefits of Weight Training
The main benefit of weight lifting for children is increased strength. While muscle hypertrophy is possible, increase in the size of muscles is not the main factor leading to strength gain since the level of testosterone in children who have not reached puberty is low.
Strength gain in children is as a result of neuromuscular learning. The muscles are controlled by the activation of motor units; each motor unit controls a certain number of muscle fibers. Movements such as writing or blinking require the activation of only a few motor units while performing squats or complexes exercises requires activation of a larger number of motor units.
Weight training trains the nervous system to activate the required number of motor units that will lead to the contraction of any given muscle. Ability to activate a large number of motor units leads to more strength.
The second major benefit of children weight lifting is the improvement of body composition. Childhood obesity is a growing health problem and since weight training does not pressure the respiratory system like aerobic exercise, obese children can experience any easier time participating as they don’t become as fatigued as they do with aerobic based workouts.
Other Benefits of Weight Lifting Include:
Increases muscle strength
Increases bone mineral density
Increases cardio-respiratory fitness
Improves blood lipid profile
Improves the composition of fat and muscle in the body
Lowers blood pressure
Increases resistance to injury
Increases one’s psychological well being
Improves one’s attitude towards physical activity in the future
What’s the Best Time to Start Strength Training?
Any child above the age of 6 years can safely begin weight training as long as he or she is mature enough to accept and follow directions. It’s important that they understand the risks and benefits associated with weight training.
The nervous system at this age is very plastic and kids are eager to learn new things. It is the perfect time to teach a kid movement patterns and exercises. In fact, if the workout program is structured properly, it will be fun and a kid may never realize that he is actually weight training.
However, just like other exercise programs, injuries can occur hence the need to have a child supervised by an experienced and responsible trainer at all times to avoid any major injuries. It’s also important to have the child screened by a doctor for any medical conditions or complications that can make weight training dangerous.
The Best Workout Plans for Children
The saying “No pain no gain” when working out does not apply to children.
Children’s workout programs should be sensible. They should not be expected to perform with the same intensity level as adults. During the initial learning stages, children should do exercises with little to no resistance then progress slowly. The sessions should begin with a proper warm up followed by one exercise for each main muscle group.
About three days of training will suffice to achieve the aforementioned benefits of weight lifting.
In the end, it is obvious that the benefits of weight training far outweigh the potential risks of it. As with any workout, there is risk involved. But to minimize the risk, remember to exercise with proper form and lift the appropriate amount of weight.