Will your child stunt their growth if they lift weights?

  • By Dr. Daniel G. Drury, Gettysburg College
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As an Exercise Physiologist and professor of Health Sciences, I often get questions from friends and family about how to promote fitness, lose weight and improve health. Most of the time, I am happy to share all the latest information I can to try and help sort through all of the contradicting media reports about these subjects. However, there is one question I get consistently that I wish would go away. It stems from a rumor started many years ago that has virtually no scientific basis, yet it persists from one generation to the next………

“Will my child stunt their growth if he/she lifts weights?”

The answer to this question is “NO” plain and simple. In the past, people thought that if a child lifted something heavy (barbells or dumbbells) the gravitational pressure would damage the soft growth plates on the end of their bones. The bones would then heal and fuse pre-maturely leading to a stunted growth. This simply isn’t true. I agree that children should avoid maximal lifts (powerlifting), but avoiding ALL forms of strength training as a rule is just counterproductive.

You see, physiologically your muscles don’t know the differences between the resistance provided by strength training or the resistance provided by vigorous work or play. A muscle will contract and create force to counter any type of resistance. If the resistance is introduced safely, on a regular basis and at the right intensity, the muscle will respond by getting stronger.

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If this strength training myth were true, children all over the world would be suffering from this horrible condition. Kids that complete heavy chores on the family farm would be tiny. Kids that play explosive youth sports would just stop growing and we would have strict rules about running too fast, giving piggy back rides and wheel barrel races. All of these activities require heavy muscular effort, but DO NOT STUNT GROWTH. As a matter of fact, kids in elementary school can safely and effectively lift weights to promote health and build strength. Yes, it’s downright good for them! The key thing for parents to understand is that a child must be mature enough to follow safe lifting guidelines and dedicated enough to follow a well-designed regimented program. In other words, the age at which a child can begin strength training is determined more by the child’s psychological maturity versus their chronological age. Supervision and guidance are also very important factors as the child learns this new skill.

So stop worrying about stunting your child’s growth. Find out the facts about how to safely introduce strength training into your child’s weekly activities. If done correctly, it’s safe, it’s fun, it’s effective and it will help your child develop more muscle as well as develop good fitness habits for the future.

For a brief overview of this topic from the American College of Sports Medicine see:

http://www.acsm.org/access-public-information/articles/2012/01/13/youth-strength-training-facts-and-fallacies

Dr. Daniel G. Drury
Chairperson/Associate Professor, Health Sciences
Gettysburg College

 

 

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