One of the most shocking things about becoming an adult is learning about all of the lies you were told as a kid. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are the big ones, of course, but there are plenty of smaller fibs, too. Gum does not take seven years to digest, for example (you’ll poop it out whole quite quickly). Similarly, cracking your knuckles won’t give you arthritis, your eyes won’t stay crossed if you hold them that way for too long, touching a toad won’t give you warts, and (perhaps most important for young athletes) lifting weights will not stunt your growth.
In nearly every case, the myth is well-intentioned and rooted in genuine concern – but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a lie. And when it comes to weightlifting, that lie has denied countless adolescents the fitness benefits enjoyed by, well, nearly every adult who does it.
Not a shred of evidence exists to support the stunting growth theory, but there is plenty of research to support the advantages of well-designed and supervised weightlifting programs for kids. Children and adolescents who lift weights not only benefit from improved strength and body composition, but also tend to have more robust bones, increased self-esteem, a reduced risk of sports-related injuries, and a greater overall interest in fitness, which pays lifelong dividends. Best of all, training for kids can be fun.
In short, there are really no downsides to letting kids try strength training as long as you’re careful and smart about it. But that’s the key – being careful and smart about what types of programs kids are implementing in the weight room. As with adults, not putting safety first has consequences, as does not emphasising proper form and not following a well-designed program, so make sure those boxes are checked before you begin no matter what age you are.
Your move: If you’re a kid that’s old enough to read this article and want to strength train, go for it – but get a coach or personal trainer to help you to get started. If you’re a parent, and your child is interested in lifting weights, let them, as long as they have expert supervision.
It’s best to wait until the age of 7 or 8 to begin strength training intentionally – until that point, most kids lack the attention, coordination, and emotional maturity to do it effectively – and it’s important to follow the same rules as adults when you’re starting out (i.e., start with bodyweight exercises, and only add weight once you master proper form).
When weights are added to the equation, keep them light and focus on higher (12-plus) rep sets for safety and for real world applicability. When you’re a kid, there’s no advantage to being a bodybuilder—but there’s a huge one to being a fierce competitor on the field.
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