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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Should your teen lift weights? The benefits definitely outweigh the risks, if a few precautions are followed. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends strength training for kids 8 years old and up as safe. They tout strength training for teens as an effective way to prevent injuries and improve performance in youth sports. Most importantly, the AAP has also concluded that contrary to what many believe, proper strength training does not stunt growth in teens. They also recommend that checking with your doctor before your teen begins a strength training program is important. Getting your doctor's approval, along with any contraindications, is even more important if he or she has a known health concern such as a heart condition, seizures, or high blood pressure.

There is one specific guideline every parent needs to know, cautions the Mayo Clinic: the difference between strength training and conditioning, as opposed to weight lifting or power lifting. For adults, many of these words can be used interchangeably, but for kids they shouldn't be. Heavy weight training can put extreme stress on muscles, tendons, and joints that are still growing in your tween or teen.

The age of your child can also make a difference in effectiveness. Weight training before puberty may not be so 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 his or her growth plates. Growth plates are spots or points of cartilage or new growth that haven't fully solidified into bone yet. Before making a decision, every parent should take into account the age of the child, and exactly what the workout will include.

Benefits of Strength Training

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 he or she will have a reduced risk of breaking bones and getting injured at practice or during games. He or she will also be improving gross motor skills, known as coordination and fluidity of movements.

In addition to physical health benefits, improving body awareness, building a healthy body image and self-esteem, and overall confidence can also result. All of which 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, and physical limitations, and intellectual disabilities."

Weight Lifting for Beginners

The first rule of thumb for parents is to seek out a knowledgeable youth coach as teens should always be supervised. In fact, the National Strength and Conditioning Association has reported it's when teens are not supervised that the risk of injury increases due to playing around and not following their program properly.

To be safe and effective, your teen should learn about a proper warm-up and cool down, proper pace, form and technique, and appropriate progression. Performing 1-2 sets of each exercise for 12-15 reps is recommended by the Mayo Clinic. Resistance using exercise bands, body weight, and free weights are all safe and effective options. The recommendation is for interested teens to do 2-3 strength training workouts a week, with at least one full rest day in between exercises.

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