I often get this question: Should youth athletes get into a strength training program? The answer: YES!
Youth weightlifting – if properly designed – is perfectly safe and produces solid results. I often hear the tired myth of “Weight lifting too early can stunt growth.” Not a single research study has corroborated this statement with medical evidence. In an article written by John A. Bergfeld, M.D. (of Cleveland Clinic fame), he said:
Despite the previously held belief that strength training was unsafe and ineffective for children, health organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) now “support children’s participation in appropriately designed and competently supervised strength training programs.
Later in the same article, he said:
As far as what age a child should start such a program, here is a good rule of thumb: If 7- or 8-year-olds are ready for participation in organized sports or activities such as little league or gymnastics, then they are ready for some type of strength training program. For children starting out in weight training, lifetime fitness and proper exercise techniques should be emphasized. Adults designing training programs should provide a stimulating environment that helps children develop a healthier lifestyle.
Avery D. Faigenbaum, EdD, CSCS corroborated Dr. Bergfeld’s research and statements.
So please, let’s put this myth to rest. While it is true that it is probably best to train athletes when they start to produce testosterone (puberty) to reach ideal results, weight training before then does not endanger their growth plates or bones – they will simply see results much slower than an athlete who is going through puberty will. For youth athletes under the biological age range of 13-14, special care should be taken to address their recovery cycles and closely supervise their novice training protocols; a linear progression model works best, but weight should be added sparingly and much slower than in athletes who have begun to enter puberty.