Can Lifting Weights When Young Stunt Your Growth?

Boy training with dumbbells together with coach at fitness center
Let your child hit the gym with you if he desires. (Image: LightFieldStudios/iStock/GettyImages)

Weightlifting is a fundamental part of any exercise program. Whether you are attempting to build muscle, lose weight or maintain your desired body size and shape, adding weightlifting to your daily workout can help you achieve your goals. While these benefits may hold true for a fully grown adult, consider what effects weight lifting may have on the growing body of young athletes.

Growth Concerns

The epiphyseal plates, otherwise known as growth plates, are responsible for bone growth in children and adolescents. Located at the ends of bones, these cartilage plates divide and regenerate throughout a child's development, helping form new bone in the process.

The process of regeneration stops when you reach your full height, with the cartilage plates stop mineralizing and form the ends of your mature bones. Concerns are that weightlifting can cause damage to growth plates, fueling the belief that there is a correlation between weightlifting and stunted growth,

In a 2010 study, Andrew Fry of the University of Kansas and Corey Lohnes of Washington University linked weight-training exercise to an increase in testosterone production. Involved in bone growth, muscle development and the closure of the growth plates, testosterone may have contradictory effects on growth.

Dismissing the Myths

According to Dr. Avery Faigenbaum of the University of Massachusetts, concerns about weight lifting stunting the growth of children and adolescents are outdated and misleading. Instead, he suggests that eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly allow you to achieve your maximal height, with inactive, unhealthy eaters more likely to have stunted growth.

Kids can benefit from weight training in the gym, but also benefit from "weighted" exercises out on the playground or at home. Push-ups, climbing monkey bars, or jumping off a slide all help develop muscle mass. And, there's no debate as to whether these moves put a child at risk of short stature. In fact, these "playful" activities are encouraged as healthy. Weight training can be too.

Weight training actually invokes neurological changes that improve power and strength in young people, so they may not look "bigger," but their muscles are getting healthier and more capable of lifting greater weight. No solid evidence links weight training to the inability to grow to maximal height.

Do supervise your child if he wants to hit the dumbbells, free weights or weight machines. The potential injury of weight lifting isn't from the weight training stunting his growth, but from him dropping a weight on his toes or pinching a finger between weight plates on a machine.

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