Does Strength Training Stunt Growth?
I routinely have parents and athletes ask me questions about popular beliefs surrounding human performance and development. Many of the questions recur quite frequently. Some of the theories have some weight but many of them are myths with no clear origin. One of the most common misnomers I get asked about is the notion that weight training stunts growth.
This theory follows the logic that stressing the bones of prepubescent and/or adolescent athletes, with still-open growth plates, will cause a premature closure of the growth plates; and thus, inhibit the full potential of a given bone’s growth. Even worse, the thought is that resistance training may put the bones at an increased risk of breaking in this stage of development, leading to the same, or worse, growth outcomes.
You can rest easy if this is keeping you up at night, because there is plenty-o-research debunking this claim. Perhaps the best cohort examined illustrating the effect of strength training on youth athletes is the Olympic weightlifting community (OWL). When youth OWL participants had their bones scanned to determine the impact of strength training on bone development, it was found that those who lifted weights actually had more dense bones than those who did not lift weights. Wait, what? Strength training is good for your bones? The same result was found in youth gymnasts when compared to non-gymnasts and youth tennis players when their dominant and non-dominant arms were compared.
What does this mean? This means that when done properly, resistance training can have a positive impact on a youth athlete’s bone mineral density with no apparent downside. This does not mean that youth athletes are immune to injury if unsafe practices are carried out. There are definitely injuries that await those youth athletes who train like an adult, or engage in training practices that are not age appropriate, but properly designed and supervised strength and conditioning sessions can be very beneficial for developing athletes.
If you have any burning human performance questions that you would like answered, please feel free to connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Faigenbaum, A. D., & Myer, G. D. (2010). Resistance training among youth athletes: Safety, efficacy and injury prevention effects. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(1), 56-63.
Gomez-Bruton, A., Matute-Llorente, A., Gonzalez-Aguero, A., Casajus, J. A., & Vicente-Rodriguez, G. (2017). Plyometric exercise and bone health in children and adolescents: a systematic review. World Journal of Pediatrics, 13(2), 112-121.
Knorr, A. (2014). Positive and negative skeletal adaptations in young gymnasts. The Nurse Practitioner, 39(5), 38-46.