Myth: Lifting weights is unsafe for children and will stunt their growth.
One of the most common myths associated with youth fitness programs is that resistance training is unsafe and harmful to the developing skeleton of children. Unfortunately, these outdated views persist today and some parents and caregivers question if children should lift weights in school- and community-based programs. Despite public health recommendations encouraging children to participate in muscle-strengthening activities, myths associated with youth resistance training just won’t quit.
No scientific evidence indicates that participation in a well-designed youth resistance training program will stunt the growth of children or harm their developing skeleton. In fact, childhood seems to be the best time to participate in strength-building activities that enhance bone mineral content and density. With qualified supervision and a sensible progression of training loads, regular participation in youth resistance training can have a favorable influence on bone growth and development in girls and boys.
Since today’s youth are weaker and slower than previous generations, the time is ripe to incorporate strength-building exercises into youth fitness programs. In addition to gains in musculoskeletal strength, youth resistance training offers a variety of health and fitness benefits that can prevent the decline in physical activity and upsurge in disease risk factors early in life. Moreover, new insights into the design of youth fitness programs have highlighted the importance of participating in strength- and skill-building activities early in life to set the stage for ongoing participation in exercise and sport activities. Indeed, the unique benefits of resistance training should not be overlooked when designing youth fitness programs.
The key is to provide qualified instruction in a safe exercise environment while recognizing the physical and psychosocial uniqueness of children. In addition to prescribing the right dose (i.e., load, repetitions and sets) of resistance training, it is also important to provide meaningful feedback, foster new social networks and promote healthy behaviors. Youth who enjoy the experience of resistance training are more likely to adhere to the program and achieve training goals.
The truth is that resistance training can be a safe, effective and worthwhile activity for children if the program is supervised, well-designed and technique-driven.
Additional resources on youth fitness
Avery D. Faigenbaum, Ed.D., FACSM, is a Full Professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at The College of New Jersey. Rhodri S. Lloyd, Ph.D., is a Reader in Paediatric Strength and Conditioning at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Jon L. Oliver, Ph.D., is a Full Professor of Applied Paediatric Exercise Science at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Along with ACSM, they are the co-authors of Essentials of Youth Fitness (Human Kinetics, 2020).