By Craig Nolan
I can vividly recall my first encounter with lifting weights when I was 12 years old.
Our family had a weightlifting set in our basement that included a bench, a leg extension, and a curl bar. I always admired athletes and action hero movie stars (Rambo, Rocky, and The Terminator) who had developed muscular physiques through resistance training. My goal was to one day build a physique that would rival theirs. I would work out in the morning before school or in the evening before bed.
Did I really know what I was doing? No, but it sure felt good doing it and over time I started to notice I was definitely becoming stronger, and friends and family members would comment that I was starting to look “bigger.” I assumed I was doing something right.
I never did attain the much admired “Rocky Balboa physique” but I did research and study the topic of youth resistance training while earning my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I remember reading and hearing the following comments from random people: “Weight training is not safe for kids” and “Lifting weights will stunt their growth.”
As I became more educated on the topic of resistance training, these random statements made no sense to me. I would ask myself, “Why is it safe for adults to lift weights and not kids?” and “How could strengthening muscles and bones stunt one’s growth?” As an educator I tell my students to never accept other’s statements/opinions as fact unless it is supported by research.
Wel,l I am here to inform you that the research does support our youth engaging in a safe and supervised resistance training program – safe and supervised being the key words.
There is no scientific evidence that proves that resistance training will stunt one’s growth. In fact the “prebone,” also known as growth cartilage, will actually become stronger as a result of engaging in regular resistance training. Kids that are engaging in sports or any activity for that matter that includes running, jumping, and landing will experience much more force on the joints than what is experienced in a safe resistance training program.
There was a study that investigated the injury rates among adolescents in various activities. This study supported the fact that resistance training and weightlifting had lower overall injury rates among its participants than other sports such as rugby. When occurrences of injuries did occur while resistance training, it was usually a result of what I term “user error.”
These user errors include the following risk factors: unsafe exercise equipment, excessive load and volume, improper technique, previous injury and an unsafe exercise environment. All of these factors can be remedied if a youth exercise program is designed and supervised by a qualified fitness professional.
The benefits of kids engaging in resistance training far outweigh the possible negatives. The percentage of children aged 6 to 11 years in the United States who are classified as obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012. The percentage of adolescents aged 12 to 19 increased from 5 percent to nearly 21 percent over that same time period.
Lack of exercise is a highly contributing factor to these increased rates of obesity. Exercise professionals, educators, and parents should be encouraging our youth to regularly resistance train to attain the following benefits: increase lean muscle mass, decrease fat mass, increase strength, increase energy levels, increase bone mineral density, decrease blood pressure, and the list goes on.
My next article will discuss how to design an effective and safe youth resistance training program.
“Childhood Obesity Facts.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. August 27, 2015. Accessed May 15 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm
Faigenbaum, A. and et al. (2011). Injury Trends and Prevention in Youth Resistance Training. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 33(3), 36-41.
Craig Nolan is a Maricopa resident and a member of the Exercise Science faculty at Mesa Community College.