There are a lot of myths surrounding the “common-sense fact” that young athletes shouldn’t resistance train. Today, we’ll debunk some of those ridiculous myths courtesy of the American College of Sports Medicine and years of peer-reviewed scientific research.
- RESISTANCE TRAINING WILL STUNT THE GROWTH OF CHILDREN.
There is absolutely no scientific evidence indicating that participation in a supervised resistance training program will stunt the growth of children or damage developing growth plates (3). There is evidence that this is the most opportune time to develop bone mineral density and reduce their risk of bone disorders later in life (1). This is best accomplished by participating in load-bearing exercises.
- RESISTANCE TRAINING IS UNSAFE FOR CHILDREN.
Resistance training is no less safe than any other sport or activity (2,3). Accidents happen all the time, but a quality program based on fostering skill competency, coached by a qualified degreed and certified professional, and performed in a safe environment limits any and all risk of injury to young participants.
- YOU NEED TO BE AT LEAST 12 YEARS OLD TO LIFT WEIGHTS.
There is no evidence-based minimum age required for participation in a resistance training program. The qualification should be limited to the child’s cognitive ability and relative coordination. As long as he/she can follow instruction, adhere to safety rules, and maintain a minimum level of control over their limbs, they can lift weights (2). Children as young as 7 years old have successfully participated in resistance training programs.
- GIRLS WILL DEVELOP BULKY MUSCLES IF THEY LIFT WEIGHTS.
During childhood, training-induced gains in strength are largely due to neuromuscular adaptation and movement pattern development. Boys develop bigger muscles during growth years due to increased secretion of anabolic hormones. Growing girls don’t produce these anabolic hormones in sufficient enough quantities to develop bulky muscles. Girls can get stronger throughout childhood, getting all the benefits of resistance training, without getting big (3).
- RESISTANCE TRAINING IS ONLY FOR YOUNG ATHLETES.
There are observable health and fitness benefits for all children and adolescents, not just for young athletes (3). In addition to performance enhancement and injury reduction, participants can improve musculoskeletal and joint health, improve metabolic function, increase bone mineral density, and increase their daily physical activity. It can be particularly helpful for obese and overweight children who are unwilling or unable to perform prolonged periods of aerobic exercise (4).
Don’t be fooled by old science. Poor studies conducted 30 years ago and comments made by professionals less qualified than almost anyone today have shaped our current opinions on health-related topics. The fallout is that our children are less active and more obese than ever. Share this if you want to help further exercise science and bring us out of the dark ages.
- Behringer M, Gruetzner S, McCourt M, Mester J, Effects of weight-bearing activities on bone mineral content and density in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis. J Bone Miner Res. 2014;29(2):467-78
- Faigenbaum A, Myer G. Resistance training among youth athletes: safety, efficacy and injury prevention effects. Br J Sports Med. 2010;44(1):56-63
- Lloyd RS, Faigenbaum AD, Stone MH, et al. Position statement on youth resistance training: the 2014 International Consensus. Br J Sports Med. 2014;48(7):498-505
- Smith JJ, Eather N, Morgan PJ, Plotnikoff RC, Faigenbaum AD, Lubans DR. The health benefits of muscular fitness for children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2014;44(9):1209-23