"Weight training stunts your growth" – myths every sport parent needs to know

Unfortunately there are a number of untruths that continue to negatively influence youth athletes, parents and coaches. In this series, I am to address a number of them which continue to hamper the progression of youth athletes to full senior level performance…
Myth 1 – Weight training stunts your growth

This is the oldest myth in the book. Not only is it completely false, but it also results in children and parents opting out of what could potentially be the MOST beneficial time to strength train. Every time I hear this from a parent I want to give them a high five….in the face…with a chair…
A large portion of blame should go to the misinterpretation of early research studies which focused on rare incidences of epiphyseal growth plate injury, usually due to improper programs or lack of supervision (what idiot lets kids play with weights unsupervised?). However compared to other sports weightlifting (the sport, not lifting weights) has a very low incidence of injury. If you consider this study, only 15% of All injury was to growth plates, primarily sustained by impact injury due to activities such as falling off skateboards, falling out of trees or from playground equipment. Competitive sport only accounted for 33% of this 15% of all injuries, so 4.95% of all injuries. The sports mentioned were hockey(ice?) baseball and football. American football was considered to be the sport most associated with growth plate injury. Considering this article originated in the US, what does that tell us? That kids that play a sport which requires them to run into each other are more likely to sustain growth plate injuries…anyone for some rugby?
So in a nutshell – your child is far and above more likely to get a growth plate injury playing a high impact, contact sport such as rugby, American football or football than by lifting weights. This makes sense as in a weight training session the intensity, speed and force of the exercise should be progressed appropriately for the individual under the supervision of a qualified professional, however good luck trying to control the intensity, speed and impact forces on a rugby pitch! The video below illustrates a perfect example – clearly a variety of biological ages and maturation states playing all on a “level playing field”…
Tell me this is less dangerous than lifting a weight which has been individually selected, coached with proper technique, at an appropriate speed under the eyes of a qualified strength and conditioning coach?
“Contrary to the majority of these misconceptions however, research suggests that childhood to adolescence is in the fact the most opportune time for bones to respond to the compressive and tensile forces experienced during weight bearing exercise.”(Strength and Conditioning for Youth Athletes – Rhodri Lloyd and Jon Oliver)
Bone is an adaptive tissue, it actually requires proper mechanical loading to alter its size, shape and structure. Females reach 90% of peak bone mass by the age of 18, whilst this is reached by age 20 in males. What does this mean? Basically, that the best time to invest in building a strong skeleton is in your youth. Yet this is usually the time most athletes are being told the lifting weights will stunt their growth – counterproductive or what? In fact weight bearing activity in youth was determined to be more influential factor than daily calcium intake in peak bone mass.

It’s vital to establish good bone mass in childhood and adolescence!

By applying an appropriate stimuli to the bone tissue, you can provoke the adaptations of increased bone mineral density and bone integrity. For example, a study of elite youth weight lifters showed they had significantly higher bone mineral density and total bone mass compared to sedentary controls. This effect isn’t restricted to purely strength training, basically increasing the forces experienced by the skeleton can lead to favourable increases. These studies showed high impact circuits and plyometric activities can also improve bone integrity.
To spell this out in black and white – if your child/athlete is not exposed to proper bone mechanical loading, their risk of fracture is greater than an athlete who strength trains. In addition, if that athlete is female, they may have an increased risk of osteoporosis later in life.
In the words of a former colleague of mine. “Dont let your kid lifts weights. I’ll teach mine to strength train properly. When they meet on the rugby pitch I’m confident my kid will run straight through yours.”
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Bone mineral density in elite junior Olympic weightlifters
A school curriculum-based exercise program increases bone mineral accrual and bone size in prepubertal girls
Physeal injuries in children’s and youth sports: reasons for concern
“Bounce at the Bell”: a novel program of short bouts of exercise improves proximal femur bone mass in early pubertal children
Weight-bearing activity during youth is a more important factor for peak bone mass than calcium intake

3 thoughts on “"Weight training stunts your growth" – myths every sport parent needs to know

  1. Great post Rob. I’ll be sharing this with the staff at my school to pass on to parents as it’s still something I hear every time I work with new students!

    1. Thanks Andy! In a previous role we actually ended up holding a workshop for parents to bite the bullet head on! We used lots of research examples to show how jumping and landing on 1/2 legs is actually far more stressful on the body! Really worked well and helped with buy in!

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