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Your Youth Athlete Needs Strength Training

Steph Lodge
Apr 16, 2024

The belief that strength training can stunt growth in children and adolescents is a long-standing myth that has discouraged many young athletes and their parents from incorporating resistance exercises into their training. However, scientific evidence and expert opinion increasingly suggest that this is a misconception. This article delves into the myth, examines the scientific evidence, and highlights the actual effects of strength training on youth development.

The Origin of the Myth

The myth that strength training hinders growth in youth stems from concerns about injuring growth plates (the areas of cartilage near the ends of long bones where bone growth occurs in children and adolescents). It was believed that lifting weights or resistance training could damage these plates, leading to stunted growth. While valid in the context of injuries, this concern has been misapplied in the general practice of strength training.

Understanding Growth Plates

Growth plates, also known as epiphyseal plates, are crucial to childhood and adolescent development. They are the last portion of bones to harden, making them more susceptible to fractures. However, injuries to growth plates are typically the result of acute trauma and not the result of controlled, moderate-strength training.

The Science Behind Strength Training and Growth

Numerous studies have shown that strength training, when properly supervised and tailored to the individual’s age and development stage, does not adversely affect growth plate health or overall growth. It has several benefits:

Increased Bone Density: Strength training can enhance bone density and strength, which is crucial when individuals are most susceptible to bone accumulation. 

Improved Muscle Strength and Endurance: Just like in adults, strength training in youth improves muscle strength and endurance, aiding overall athletic performance.

Enhanced Joint Health: Controlled and guided strength training can lead to stronger ligaments and tendons, contributing to improved joint health and stability.

Injury Prevention: By strengthening muscles and joints, young athletes can lower their risk of sports-related injuries. 

The Role of Proper Supervision and Technique:

Proper supervision and technique are key to safe and effective strength training for youth. It’s crucial that: 

1. Exercises are age-appropriate.
2. There is a focus on technique rather than the amount of weight lifted. 
3. Training intensity is increased gradually.
4. Programs are designed and supervised by qualified professionals.

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Debunking Common Misconceptions

Myth: Lifting weights is not safe for children.
Fact: The American Academy of Pediatrics, among other organizations, supports strength training for kids provided it is age-appropriate and supervised.

Myth: Strength training is only for young athletes.
Fact: Strength training can benefit all children and adolescents, not just those participating in sports, by improving overall health and fitness.

Recommendations for Youth Strength Training 

Start with Body Weight: Young beginners should start with bodyweight exercises before gradually introducing light weights. 

Focus on the Entire Body: Programs should target all major muscle groups.

Prioritize Form Over Weight: Emphasis should be on learning proper form and technique, not on lifting heavy weights. 

Incorporate Variety: To keep training enjoyable and effective, a variety of exercises should be included. 

The Impact of Nutrition and Rest

Adequate nutrition and rest are as crucial as the training itself.  A balanced diet rich in essential nutrients and sufficient rest are vital for recovery and growth.

Monitoring and Adapting Programs

Regular monitoring of strength training programs is essential to ensure they remain safe, effective, and appropriate for the child’s development stage. Adjustments should be made as the child grows and develops. 

Strength training, contrary to the antiquated myth, does not hinder growth in youth when conducted responsibly. With proper guidance, it can be a safe and beneficial part of a young athlete’s development contributing to improved strength, better athletic performance, and reduced injury risk. As with any exercise program, the key lies in the appropriate design, supervision, and execution tailored to the individual needs and developmental stages youth.  


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