It’s amazing to me how pervasive common knowledge can be and how loudly some people are willing to preach with little to no background on a topic. A recent post on the 626 blog included a photo of one of the children in my kids program performing a lift. This picture ended up on facebook in a very supportive post, but within minutes someone outside the 626 community made a comment stating “I hope she enjoys being that height.” Espousing the myth that lifting stunts the development of growth plates in children.
I know I shouldn’t let a facebook comment from a random person get to me but, in the health and fitness industry it seems simply walking through the doors of a gym gives certain people the impression that they’re an expert. Frustrations aside, I figured I should try to be a part of the solution and begin a new post category here on kids and training. In this kickoff article I’m going to point to some of the research that dispels many of the common concerns associated with children and resistance training. Here we go….
Origins of the Myth
I’m not sure where they myth began that lifting weights stunts growth in children, but this New York Times blog post points to research performed by the Japanese in the 70s. The identified study found that children laborers tended to be abnormally short. According to the article, the researchers concluded that the youth worker’s growth was hindered by their hours of physical labor. Slowly this finding became associated with weight training, and the common “knowledge” that children lifting weights stunts their growth entered the public perception.
Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain a copy of the Japanese study, so it’s difficult for me to poke holes in their conclusion. However, thanks to a large body of evidence from carefully conducted studies performed over the past 15 years, it is now well established that not only is it safe to the developing musculoskeletal system of children to perform resistance training it is also effective in developing strength, increasing bone density and preventing sports-related injuries.
Sports Injuries and Kids
Speaking of sports-related injuries, this is actually the area where parents should be focusing their concern. One study evaluated injury rates for various adolescent physical activities and found that aggressive sports like rugby resulted in 0.8000 injuries per 100 participant hours as compared to 0.0035 for resistance training . For those of you paying attention, that’s an injury rate 228 times higher for rugby than for weight training!
Perhaps you’re saying, sure, but I’d never let my kid play a crazy sport like rugby. Well, another study of school aged children involved in team sports conducted over the period of one year, found that resistance training resulted in 0.7% of all injuries while participation in American football was responsible for a full 19% of the total . In the US, the top three injury-producing sports are: football, wresting and gymnastics. When participating in these sports, the body can be subjected to forces up to seven times body mass .
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that children should avoid these sports. I’m simply stating that the research shows weight training is orders of magnitude safer for children than other sports and that parental concern is misdirected. On top of which, preventing your child from weight training is doing them a major diservice – especially if they participate in sports. Aside from the likely improvement in overall sports performance, comprehensive resistance training programs have been shown to reduce the number of sports-related injuries in youth athletes due to improved functional abilities and enhanced movement biomechanics . So, by discouraging kids to participate in weight training and instead pushing them into team sports, you are likely increasing their risk of injury. How about that for irony?
Avoiding Weight Training Injuries
Even though resistance training injury rates are very low for children, they actually could and should be much lower. Roughly two-thirds of weight training related injuries sustained by 8 to 13 year olds are to the hands and feet and are due to accidents – dropping weights on themselves, pinching their limbs with weights, etc. . These are injuries that are completely preventable and are primarily sustained under unsupervised or “under-supervised” conditions. Amazingly, the one great danger to children from resistance training comes not from lifting the weights, but doing so without proper supervision. I’ll end this injury discussion with a note on “under-supervision.” The second most common source of lifting-related injuries in kids is due to aggressive progression of training loads . So, not only is it important that your child be supervised when lifting, but that they actually be coached by someone that is properly trained to instruct and provide appropriate program design for kids.
How to Proceed
Have I piqued your interest about kids and strength training now? For those of you out there that would like to get your kids lifting weights and started down the path to increased strength and injury prevention, below you’ll find a list of criteria to look for in a program. Prior to joining though, there is one major prerequisite for your child. Lifting weights requires a certain level of maturity. Before enlisting your child, make sure they have the ability to take instruction and not horse around when in the weight room. If they can behave themselves, then they should be ready to jump right in!
What to Look for in a Kid’s Lifting Program
- Focus of the program should be on technique, not total weight lifted.
- All major muscle groups should be worked – core development should be the foundation (this doesn’t mean “abs”).
- The stimulus should be constantly varied.
- Session should be lead by a qualified instructor that is experienced in working with children and has a record of doing so without inducing injuries.
- Kids should be continuously monitored during sessions.
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