Why strength training won’t stunt your child’s growth!

We've all heard the myth that strength training can stunt growth in children.

But is it true?

The US Department of Health and Human Services in its Physical Activity Guidelines recommend for children (ages 6-17) to participate daily in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity that is developmentally appropriate and enjoyable and involves a variety of activities. Not only is regular physical activity essential for normal growth and development, but also a physically active lifestyle during the pediatric years may help to reduce the risk of developing some chronic diseases later in life. Youth are encouraged from a young age to participate in aerobic activity whether as part of the school curriculum or extra curricular activities outside of school.

But what about strength training? Is it suitable for children? Will it affect their growth?

We have been asked this various times, either by children/teenagers, or by their parents. No studies have shown a connection with strength training and poor growth. In fact, the Physical Activity Guidelines recommend to include resistance exercise and bone-loading activity on at least 3 days a week! Strength training does not stunt growth, nor does it lead to growth-plate injuries. Young people do not generate muscular power in the same way that adults do. While they can gain some muscle strength, they mainly experience neurological changes. Their muscles and nervous systems begin to interact more efficiently. Research increasingly indicates that resistance training can offer unique benefits for children and adolescents when appropriately prescribed and supervised. Research shows an increase in motor-unit activation within the muscles among children as a result of strength training. This allows the muscles to contract more efficiently. So think of strength training as activating the power within the muscles that has not yet been used.

Strength training can strengthen your child’s bones, help protect their muscles and joints from injuries, help promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, help your child maintain a healthy weight, and improve your child’s health and self-esteem! It is advisable to check with your child’s doctor that it is okay for him/her to begin strength training.

However, with any exercise program, if you do too much too soon, you may cause physical problems, but that is true of any age. The most important thing for a child to do is to train under supervision, learn proper technique, use light weights, use body weight exercises (unless the child is overweight), and high reps in the 15-20 range. For healthy children who receive proper instruction and train under supervision, the benefits are great! Free weights are ideal as opposed to machines. Machines are not always built for children and the child may not understand how to suitably set up the machine to fit him.

Regular endurance, resistance, and bone-loading exercise will bring about favourable training adaptations in children, resulting in cardiovascular, metabolic, and skeletal benefits! Sadly, most children nowadays do not meet current physical activity recommendations. The increasing advance of technology is keeping children indoors, eyes glued to screens, and is more rapidly preventing children from running around, being outdoors, and participating in physical activity. It is our role as parents to encourage our children to spend more time outdoors, to play more, to exercise, and thereby promote healthy habits at a young age. Help them to lead a healthy lifestyle.

So all you parents out there, don’t be afraid to encourage your children to do strength training. As long as they train safely, they will reap the benefits!

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