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Does Weight Lifting Stunt Growth? The Science Says No

February 23, 2019

Weight lifting is synonymous to strength training and resistance training; it is an important fundamental component 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. Many people want to know: Does weight lifting stunt growth?

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 the science says.

Does Weight Lifting Stunt Growth?

This is one of the major concerns that young athletes or 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, while they didn’t maintain proper nutrition. So, there were many extenuating factors that contributed to this report and the myth that weight lifting could cause stunted growth.

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.

Lifting Weights is Good for Young Athletes

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 make their bones strong enough to fight osteoporosis.

We can conclusively answer the ‘does weight lifting stunt growth?’ question with a resounding no.

Does Weight Training 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 of sport related injuries.

The Benefits of Weight Training for Young Athletes

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.

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 the child understands the risks and benefits associated with weight training. It’s also important that the coach or parent is able to properly instruct the child.

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 potentially 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 for children to achieve the benefits of weight lifting. In the end, it is obvious that the benefits of weight training far outweigh the potential risks of it – when precautions are taken. 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 and always supervise young athletes.

Should Young Athletes Take Protein?

Protein performs the same function in a young athlete’s body as it does in an adult’s body. To determine whether a young athlete needs additional protein, it’s imperative to analyze their diet. A typical diet must consist of three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats and protein.

Generally, a person must consume around .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight to ensure they are maintaining an adequate protein level. This remains true for children. Most children, who eat a balanced diet, will consume enough protein to maintain a healthy body.

However, as children grow through puberty and become more advanced athletes, additional protein could help them grow more muscle mass. Again, each case id dependent on the individual athlete’s diet.

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