People often see strength training as just lifting heavy weights in a gym, but strength training can be done in a wide variety of ways, including using just your body weight. Strength training can also incorporate medicine balls, sand bags, elastic resistance bands and weighted sleds.
High risk of injury
Until recent years, there was very little data on injuries associated with youth strength training. What did exist, however, were a handful of case reports outlining serious injuries from misuse of weight training equipment, and a few small studies reporting high injury rates in competitive youth weightlifting and powerlifting programs.
In 1990, the American Academy of Pediatrics cautiously recommended against participation in strength training prior to reaching physical maturity. This report was actually referring to weightlifting, powerlifting and bodybuilding, which involve the use of maximal loads and highly technical lifting movements that had never been recommended for young people.
Regardless, the message that “weights are bad for young people” took hold and the public distrust of strength training lingered on. We now know that supervised and age-appropriate strength training is a safe activity for children and adolescents, and a good way to improve muscular fitness, body composition and psychological health.
In fact, appropriately conducted strength training programs have a much lower risk of injury than many popular youth sports like soccer, football or basketball – activities that parents happily enrol their children in year after year. Ironically, participation in strength training can actually reduce the risk of children being injured when they play sports.
Lifting weights stunts growth
You’ve probably heard at some point that strength training can stunt growth in children. This claim is based on an enduring belief that strength training causes damage to “growth plates”.
Growth plates (or epiphyseal plates) are the cartilaginous areas of growing tissue at the ends of long bones such as the femur and radius. These plates turn into hardened bone when young people reach physical maturity, but are softer during development and are therefore more susceptible to damage.
While scary to consider, growth plate injuries are actually quite common, accounting for around 15 to 30% of all bone injuries in children. Most injuries resolve completely with treatment, but on rare occasions they can result in growth abnormalities.