Does Lifting Weights Stunt Growth in Teens?

Strength training yields many benefits for teens. The key for parents is to know how and when to let them begin in order to lower the risk of injury and long-term damage.

teens lifting weights
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Some myths about children's health seem to have a way of trickling down through generations. For example, who hasn't heard that old wive's tale that if you cross your eyes for too long, they'll stick like that forever? Another myth with some staying power is that kids and teens should avoid weightlifting because, as the theory goes, it could stunt a child's growth.

Many people believe that kids and teens should avoid strength training and lifting weights because it could strain or damage bone growth plates, leading to stunted growth. But there is no research or data that shows this to be true. You may be surprised to learn that lifting weights can greatly benefit your growing teen's health and body when done correctly and safely.

Should your teen lift weights? The benefits definitely outweigh the risks if a few precautions are followed. Read more to learn about the benefits of weight training for kids and teens.

Benefits of Weight Lifting for Teens

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has concluded that contrary to what many believe, proper strength training does not stunt growth. In fact, the AAP recommends strength training for kids 8 years old and up as a safe way to build strength and stay physically fit.

Teens can reap many internal and external benefits from strength training. Other than the obvious muscle strength benefit, "resistance training may yield some health-related benefits including bone health, body composition, and sports injury reduction," says Neal Pire, MA, a certified exercise physiologist and health coach. This means your teen will have a reduced risk of breaking bones and getting injured at practice or during games. They'll also be improving gross motor skills, known as coordination and fluidity of movements.

Studies have shown that resistance training offers lots of great health benefits, including:

  • Increased strength (muscular and bone)
  • Reduced risk of sports-related injuries
  • Reduced risk of bone fractures
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improve athletic performance in youth sports
  • Develop a life-long love and interest in fitness

In addition to physical health benefits, improving body awareness, building a healthy body image, self-esteem, and overall confidence can also result. These are critical for teens as they develop lifelong healthy lifestyle skills. Pire also says, "research supports incorporating resistance training in youth with medical conditions including obesity, diabetes, cancer, severe burns, physical limitations, and intellectual disabilities."

It is important to check with your doctor before your teen begins a strength training program. Getting your doctor's approval and any contraindications is even more important if your teen has a known health concern such as a heart condition, seizures, or high blood pressure.

Strength Training vs. Heavy Weight Training

Like any sport, lifting weights comes with plenty of lingo and when it comes to the health of your kids, that lingo can be pretty important. Words like strength training and conditioning, as opposed to weight lifting or powerlifting, have very different meanings. Many of these words can be used interchangeably for adults, but for kids, they shouldn't be.

Heavy weight training (think powerlifting) can put extreme stress on muscles, tendons, and joints that are still growing in your tween or teen. But strength training and conditioning use lifting weights to help improve general health and fitness.

About Those Growth Plates

The age of your child can also make a difference in effectiveness. Weight training before puberty may not be beneficial until hormones settle and the child can build muscle to reap the full benefits. So tweens, children between the ages of 9-12, will not see much benefit. With your teen, though, the area of concern is with their growth plates.

Growth plates are spots or points of cartilage or new growth that haven't fully solidified into bone yet. Injury to growth plates can, in some cases, result in limited stature. According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, children falling off playground equipment or household furniture are more likely to incur injuries to their growth plates that could stunt their growth than a child lifting weights.

Injuries that break a bone, particularly where the growth plates are, can impact future height. However, lifting weights, when done safely and correctly, is not likely to break bones and is, therefore, a safe and healthy activity.

Before deciding, every parent should consider the child's age and what the workout will include.

Weight Lifting for Beginners

But before you buy a weight bench and a set of weights for the garage, consider this; the National Strength and Conditioning Association has reported that when teens are not supervised, the risk of injury increases. Parents should seek a knowledgeable youth coach, as teens should always be supervised when weightlifting.

The AAP has created guidelines for children starting out with strength training. They recommend:

  • Kids 8 and older can safely participate in strength training.
  • Parents should consult a trained professional to choose an appropriate program that fits their child's abilities and limitations.
  • Avoid gyms and most weight training equipment as they are designed to be used by adults and not children and therefore carry a high risk of injury to children.
  • Kids 8 and up (including teens) should never engage in powerlifting, bodybuilding, or maximal lifts until they reach skeletal maturity.
  • Kids, tweens, and teens should never take performance-enhancing drugs or supplements of any kind.

Parents can sign kids up for programs and classes geared toward youth to get started. The AAP suggests looking for programs that include 15-minute warm-up and cool-down periods. The meat of the program should consist of 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 15 repetitions, 2 to 3 times a week, and for 8 weeks.

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