If you ask around whether children should exercise with weights, you hear all sorts of answers. It’s safe to say the public is divided. Some say working out with weights too early causes pre-mature bone fusion (epiphyseal fusion), and, as a result, irreversibly stunt growth. While others say it is totally safe for kids to lift some (light) weights.
Ultimately, our physiotherapists aren’t here to tell what side you should be rooting for, but we are here to debunk some myths regarding weight training for children.
Weights training does stunt growth
This myth, somehow, is still floating around out there. Scientific evidence indicates that resistance training results in increased serum IGF-I (a biomarker that correlates with bone growth) and that there is no detrimental effect on linear growth (Falk & Eliakim, 2003), There is absolutely no reasonable evidence that points to it being bad for growing bodies.
Weights training is dangerous
With quality supervision and an effectively designed program, the rates of injury in weights training are actually very low. And under supervision, kids of all ages can participate. When put next to other popular youth sports, lifting weights had an injury rate of 1 injury every 2850 hours of training, whereas rugby, for example, had an injury rate of 1 injury every 125 hours (Hamill, 1994).
lifting weights is boring
Weights (or Resistance) Training is a physical conditioning program that involves various training techniques that progressively increase resistive loads. It can include machines, free weights, plyometrics, body weight, and functional training. It can focus on improving muscle strength, increasing power or muscle bulk, enhancing endurance or a combination of any or all of these, and can be very sports-specific.
Heavy lifting doesn’t support weight-loss
Quite the opposite is actually true. In certain body types, weights training can be the key to weight loss. A 2018 report compiled by Active Healthy Kids Australia found that Australian kids are some of the least active in the world, ranking 32nd out of 49 countries. The report gave Australia a D minus for physical activity for the third year in a row.
One Queensland tailor reported being commissioned to make a 9XL pair of school shorts for a waist >150cm. Four out of five primary school-aged children don’t meet the minimum requirements of an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day; even fewer are doing strength or weight-based activities.
Certain body shapes may respond better to heavier load resistance training than long slow distance training. If your child finds it challenging to keep up with other kids with cardio-based exercise (running, cycling, swimming etc) then putting them in an environment where they can dominate is an excellent way to build their confidence and self-esteem, all while getting a serious sweat up!
Based on our experience, big framed (aka big boned) folks, including kids, tend to be the strongest and best at lifting. And boy do their bodies respond to it when they start training! Don’t be fooled though, leaning the body out through weight training takes time and effort and diligence. You’ve got to keep things going for months on end. Stay motivated!
Weight training leads to injuries
Again, quite the opposite is true. Weights training is essential for injury prevention in young athletes. If your son or daughter keeps breaking down physically, or even if you just want to keep them on the park/court/arena/apparatus/dancefloor for the whole season then weights training is a must.
Putting weighted loads through the body in different ways (pushing, pulling, squatting, etc.) helps increase the tolerance to pressures that they’ll face in their sporting lives. A study in 2015 put junior elite soccer players through a 10-week in-season training program and concluded that the program “led to a reduction in muscle-injury incidence and severity and showed improvements in common soccer tasks such as jumping ability and linear-sprinting speed” (De Hoyo et al., 2015)
Lifting weights only puts on mass
If you think weight lifting turns your kid into a big massive piece of rock, then think again! Weights training actually impacts brain growth and development.
A European study found that children who are physically fit have a greater volume of grey matter in the brain. This is important for executive function, learning, motor skills, and visual processing.
(Esteban-Cornejo et al. 2017)
Weights training is No FUN!
Don’t knock it till you try it! See a professional (ideally a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist) A healthier life often starts with lifting weights.