Does Lifting Stunt Growth?
Lifting at an early age will prevent you from growing to your full height. Lifting at an early age will ruin your spine. Partaking in strength training before puberty will destroy your long term growth. Lifting weights at an early age will lead to fractures in your growth plates!
We have heard all of these comments, we may have even waited to begin lifting until after we hit puberty and felt it wouldn’t stunt our growth. This is a common point of communication that is transferred throughout the fitness industry but it begs the question, is it real? Does lifting weights actually lead to stunted growth? Will our children walk around as hobbits for the remainder of their existence because they began lifting weights too soon?!?!?!
What is the Concern?!?!
Most parents jump right on board key buzzwords regarding this topic. They have heard terms like “growth plates” thrown around, they have heard various doctors spew growth plate terminology frequently to oppose the development of younger athletes partaking in strength training. Growth plates sound serious, they sound fragile and they certainly sound like something that every parent should be concerned about...and they should!
But before we dig into whether or not there is evidence that backs up lifting stunting growth, let's analyze what an actual growth plate even is!
Based off scientific research:
- The epiphyseal plate (or epiphysial plate, physis, or growth plate) is a hyaline cartilage plate in the metaphysis at each end of a long bone. It is the part of a long bone where new bone growth takes place; that is, the whole bone is alive, with maintenance remodeling throughout its existing bone tissue, but the growth plate is the place where the long bone grows longer (adds length).
-The plate is only found in children and adolescents; in adults, who have stopped growing, the plate is replaced by an epiphyseal line. This replacement is known as epiphyseal closure or growth plate fusion. Complete fusion happens on average between ages 12–18 for girls (with the most common being 15-16 years for girls) and 14–19 for boys (with the most common being 18-19 years for boys).
Now that we know what the growth plate or epiphyseal plate actually is, let’s dig into whether or not these plates are susceptible to damage during early strength training.
Faigenbaum spends time analyzing literature and researched age of individuals and their exposure to weight training. Faigenbaum was looking to see if there was a higher rate or injury in younger athletes because of the rise in participation with resistance based training in youth athletes. After going through a large amount of data, Faigenbaum concluded that there was ZERO evidence showing that resistance based training had any impact on youth individuals.
Some of the individuals studied, did indeed suffer from growth plate fractures. BUT, those fractures were the result of other sports or other aspects of trauma. Many of these individuals suffered fractures just from tripping and falling, showing that there was not a correlation between strength training and growth plate fractures.
Lloyd and Oliver spend their time on this topic as well. Diving into the topic of youth weight training along with the idea that youth weight training MIGHT lead to growth plate fractures. Once again, there was zero empirical data to show that there was any correlation between resistance based training and growth plate fractures.
In fact, both of these studies actually target and discuss the benefits that resistance training can have on youth development of athletes. They bring various aspects that can lead to the positive impact on younger athletes and how resistance training MIGHT even prevent fractures.
1. Positive Impact on Neuromuscular Coordination
This means an athlete that is involved with resistance training, now they will be able to recruit muscle fibers faster and in a more coordinated manner. Improved coordination will protect athletes from potential positions in athletics that can lead to trauma based injuries. If an athlete is stronger and more coordinated, there is a much greater level of injury prevention that they will possess because it will lead to greater comprehension of skill!
2. Strength Gains
When there is an improvement in coordination, the individual can create more force AND absorb more force. Again, another topic of injury prevention. When athletes have more strength, they have joint capsules that are more stable AND they can produce higher rates of force development. This transfers tremendously well to the athletic field.
3. Injury Prevention
We know strength training can prevent injuries as long as the movements are taught properly. Skills such as preflexes and cocontractions take years to develop and when a younger individual begins their training, they learn these skills at a much higher rate. This goes a long way in their development as an athlete. The longer athletes avoid injury, the healthier they can be mentally and physically.
4. Increase in Mental Health and Healthier Habits
Children that partake training at an earlier age have greater mental health and better habits. Younger athletes develop confidence, they become proud of how they have grown and of how they have managed their stress in the weight room. These are skills that transfer to other areas of life and are pivotal for a happy, healthy, fulfilling life!
The misconception that lifting stunts growth is preventing young athletes from fully developing who they are as individuals, on and off the field. By partaking in strength training, young athletes develop in multiple ways that lead to injury prevention and even improved mental health. By finding the right program and the right environment, young athletes should embrace resistance training and begin their athletic journey accordingly for optimal long term growth!
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.