Weight training and child development, especially when referring to growth has been a contentious issue within the societal realms. In this piece, I plan to break down the fact from the fiction and present an unbiased article on one of the biggest debates in exercise.
Contrary to popular belief within sports science and medical academia we are yet to find conclusive evidence that weight training stunts child growth. In fact, certain papers point out towards the benefits of weight training such as, an increase muscle mass and bone density, reduce risk of injury and enhanced neurological efficiency in daily physical tasks.
The commonly held idea that lifting weight stunts growth really stems from our understanding of ‘growth plate’ formation, this is a growing tissue at the end of the long bone. These plates turn into harden bones once young people reach physical maturity. These tissues are much softer during development and therefore are more susceptible to damage. Quite rightly, lifting weights with improper form, programming or lack of high-quality nutrition could hinder its development. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t serve as a barrier to training, due to the overall benefits it could provide when done correctly. Thus, working with an experience professional during this phase of a child’s life is imperative.
When can they start?
ISSA (International Sports Science Associations) views children development in three stages; Phase 1 (Ages 2-4); Phase 2 (Ages 5-12); Phase 3 (Ages 13-20).
During Phase 1 children should be encouraged to ‘play’ as much as possible to build the fundamental neurological motor skills and be able to coordinate their movement patterns. Simple exercises work best such as throwing, catching, jumping and running.
In the second phase or ‘Phase 2’ children should be introduced to multiple sports to build up their physical cognitive skills. Placing an overemphasis on a single sport could lead to boredom or burnout. This is where basic strength training can begin. Slowly integrate this in and focus on execution to make sure form and technique are prioritized.
In the maturity phase or ‘Phase 3’ teens can get into more advanced strength and conditioning movements. Putting a direct emphasis into regular activity is a practice that will likely lead to an active lifestyle during adulthood, thereby boosting self-esteem through an improved physical wellbeing.
From my own experience and observation from working with children from all ages, training the correct way has led to a better quality of life through both physical and mental means. There’s no one size fit all approach, ultimately whether it’s bodyweight, sport-based, lifting weight or even all these means. All approaches seem to work well to prevent injuries and complications in their adulthood.
With a special mention to ‘resistance training’ always ensure that technical proficiency has been reached before adding in more repetitions and load. Don’t forget to keep on top of fatigue management and nutrition early on. Combining these factors with carefully planning will ensure that the child develops into a strong functioning adult without any development issues.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Sae-Tia is SMART certified personal trainer and CrossFit Level 1 trainer. His focus is on functional training and weightlifting basics. He is not only an experienced coach with years of learning and training, but also a competitive athlete who competed in numerous Olympic lifting and CrossFit competitions throughout the country.