We’ve all heard it asked before, “Will lifting weights before my child’s body has finished growing stunt their growth?” The answer to this is an emphatic “no!” It’s long been thought lifting weights would damage the soft growth plates at the end of their long bones, consequently inhibiting their growth. I cannot find one bit of scientific evidence to support this claim.
Think about all the heavy physical activity we did as kids: climbing trees, helping dad on the farm, giving piggy back rides, landing heavily after taking a speccy over a mate. The body simply does not discriminate between types of stress put on the joints and these activities place stresses that are no different to those incurred lifting weights. If any stress placed on joints through general childhood activities did create issues such as stunting growth, we’d surely be a much shorter population as a result?
Findings from a study in 2001 indicate that jumping at ground reaction forces of eight times body weight is a safe, effective, and simple method of improving bone mass at the hip and spine in children
And with weight lifting (at least as a prescribed activity) being a fairly new pastime given the long time we’ve been on the earth, the data on our average height as a species is in fact moving in a completely different direction. Human height has steadily increased over the past two centuries across the globe.
Having said this, I wouldn’t prescribe Olympic or power lifting to pre-adolescents but other weights, both body and free weights, can be extremely useful when prescribed appropriately and supervised by a qualified professional. It is proven to not only build a stronger, faster athlete who is less susceptible to injury, but also in assisting motor control development and correct movement patterns.
When deciding how young a child can be and still start weight training, a lot will depend on the child. Physiologically, even pre-adolescents can get great benefits from an appropriately set up and coached programme. When you consider that weight lifting involves careful control of a heavy object and that safety and excellent technique are critical to ongoing success, essentially it is maturity that should be the deciding factor. A young person’s ability to listen, pay attention, concentrate on and follow direction is the single most important thing in deciding whether they are ready to train.
Jereme Russell was an Intern and Coach with ESS from 2016-2017