The Stunting Myth: Why our kids aren’t at risk!

youth training, kids weightlifting

CEU Article Title: New Guidelines for Resistance Training for Children

John Platero

In the 1970’s researchers in Japan studied child laborers and discovered the juvenile workers tended to be abnormally short. It seemed amongst their many afflictions, the excessive amount of physical labor, with its hours of lifting and moving heavy weights, had stunted the children’s growth. This study permeated throughout our culture and became the norm leading many people to believe “that children and adolescents should not practice weight training.”

Many parents, coaches and pediatricians remain convinced that weight training by children will “result in short stature, epiphyseal plate” — or growth plate — “damage, lack of strength increases due to a lack of testosterone and a variety of safety issues.”

Many parents, coaches and pediatricians remain convinced that weight training for children will “result in short stature, epiphyseal plate” — or growth plate — “damage, lack of strength increases due to a lack of testosterone and a variety of safety issues.”
I must confess– this never made any sense to me. Well, let me rephrase that. The Japanese study did make sense. It figured that anyone who abused children and forced them to labor in that manner would probably under feed them so it was logical the children wouldn’t grow. However, as a child, I myself played football, baseball, basketball, hockey, wrestling, climbed and played and fell from the monkey bars. All of these tasks involved maximal or near maximum efforts. My Father taught me to lift weights when I was eleven. Weight lifting was more controlled and a much safer environment so I questioned the whole premise of the warnings regarding resistance training. While attending high school in the 1970’s we were required to take a sport and I was told weight lifting was not a sport. I was also informed that overdoing it would stunt my growth and give me hemorrhoids. In order to train I had to store dumbbells, an E-Z curl bar and plates in my locker, and then lug them every day to the weight room to exercise. I didn’t care what they said and I lifted weights anyway.

Sixty years worth of studies…

In an article for the Effects of Resistance Training in Children and Adolescents: A Meta-analysis in the Pediatrics review, researchers with the Institute of Training Science and Sports Informatics in Cologne, Germany, analyzed 60 years’ worth of studies of children and weightlifting. The ages were from 6 to 18. The researchers found that, almost without exception, children and adolescents benefited from weight training. They grew stronger. Older children, particularly teenagers, tended to add more strength than younger ones, but the difference wasn’t that much different. Over all, strength gains were “linear,” which means the more they trained the stronger they got. (19) Basically, children and youths can lift weights. Neither the American Academy of Pediatrics or exercise physiologists have a minimum age set for a child to begin a resistance training program. (21) Research has been done on moderate weight training programs with children as young as 8 years. I’ve trained children, and although I have no formal study and this next statement is purely anecdotal: The only reason you can’t do a structured resistance program, is not because young children physically can’t do it, but because you can’t hold their attention long enough to perform controlled sets of exercise.

The only reason you can’t do a structured resistance program, is not because young children physically can’t do it, but because you can’t hold their attention long enough to perform controlled sets of exercise.

The Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology published a paper on resistance training in children and adolescents. They concurred and confirmed that strength training for kids significantly increases muscular strength and endurance in children and adolescents! I knew it.

Exercise recommendations:

Fleck and Kraemer recommend a training scheme of 10-15 repetitions and 1-3 sets per muscle group. The weight should be one that the child can lift for 10-15 repetitions without going to muscular failure. (22) Like anyone else, once a base has been established, the amount of exercises and the weight lifted can be increased. When a child has reached puberty (around age 13 for girls and 15 for boys) and they know what they’re doing, a more advanced routine can be incorporated.
These are the recommendations from the Canadian position paper (20):

  • Qualified professionals (certified) should provide instruction and supervision.
  • Consider each participant’s cognitive development, physiological maturity and training experience.
  • Ensure the exercise environment is safe and free of hazards.
  • Begin each session with a 5 to 10 min dynamic warm-up period.
  • Start resistance training two or three nonconsecutive days/week.
  • Begin with 8-12 exercises that strengthen the upper body, lower body and midsection.
  • Initially perform one or two sets of 8-15 repetitions with a light to moderate load (about 60% 1RM) to learn proper form and technique.
  • Focus on learning the correct exercise technique and safe training procedures instead of the amount of resistance or weight lifted.
  • Include specific exercises that require balance and coordination.
  • Gradually progress to more advanced movements that enhance power production.
  • Cool down with less-intense activities and static stretching.
  • Systematically vary the training program over time to optimize gains and reduce boredom

These recommendations should actually be considered before training anyone; not just children or youths. I would add one last recommendation: make it fun!

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REFERENCES

19.Behringer, M., Vom Heede, A., Yue, Z., Mester, J., Paed, Mult, Effects of Resistance Training in Children and Adolescents: A Meta-analysis, The American Academy of Pediatrics, July, 2010
20. Behm D., Faigenbaum A., Baraket F., Klentrou P., Canadian Society For Exercise Physiolgy Position Paper, Resistance Training in Children and Adolescents. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism. 2008;
21. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/126/5/e1199.abstract
22. http://www.protraineronline.com/past/jun1_01/children.cfm