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Fitness & Health

18th Jun 2019

Can children lift weights? Here is what the science says

Lift weights with poor technique and you risk injury at any age. Most of the claims about kids risking growth plate injuries are unsubstantiated by science

Alex Roberts

Stewie Kid Lift Weights

It was once accepted wisdom that kids shouldn’t start training until they’re an adult

This wasn’t just locker room talk either. Personal training textbooks once pedalled the myth that children who lift weights risk growth plate injuries – although this was rarely evidenced with research.

As an increasing number of children participate in sport, strength training to gain an athletic advantage has become commonplace.

So what does the science say about letting a kid lift?

In 2009, scientists at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland compiled all the studies on adolescent weightlifting. The whole purpose of this review was to work out whether the myths were justified.

Scientists discovered that children who lift weights can improve their strength by 30% to 50% after just 8 to 12 weeks. Their training time must have them in the gym at least twice per week, in order to maintain strength.

The team behind the review say that youth athletes can make all the same muscular adaptations from lifting weights as anyone else – so long as they’re supervised properly.

Correct supervision is key for kids wanting to lift weights. Scientists say “Trained fitness professionals play an essential role in ensuring proper technique, form, progression of exercises, and safety in this age group.”

What about growth plate injuries?

Injuries do happen – but they can affect absolutely anyone at any stage.

In kids who do lift weights, scientists say injuries such as plate fractures and lower back strains are problems anyone could fall victim to:

  • Misusing equipment
  • Lifting an inappropriate weight
  • Using incorrect technique
  • Having a lack of qualified adult supervision

However, all these factors drastically increase the chance of suffering an injury whether you are 15, 35 or 50.

Most gyms only allow under-16s in the free weights area when accompanied by a responsible adult. But a lot of grown-ups need coaching too – as anyone who’s ever seen a gym fail compilation video will know.

For every kid in the gym who has videoed themselves dropping a barbell on their neck, there’s always someone 20 years older guilty of the same.

The conclusion

Children need to follow a well-designed strength training program written up by a certified strength coach. But so do many people who hit the gym regularly. Look to train at least twice a week to notice significant strength and muscle increases.

Cases of injuries are real, but are generally the result of problems that affect everyone, not just young people.

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