Hi guys, Lately I have been doing quite a bit of work with some young up and coming AFL players. I'm helping them with their speed and power which is a massive part of their sport which is getting quicker all the time. I have been getting this result with these kids through olympic weight liftng. With this comes the usual questions about stunted growth and weights being bad for their joints so i thought it an ideal time to do a post on the topic. Please feel free to leave a comment.
The question of whether or not children should participate in resistance training has been a hotly debated topic ever since weight training became popular. Unfortunately, most people tend to dive straight into this argument with little or no accurate knowledge on the subject. It hurts me to say it, but the same thing could probably be said about just about any issue in the fitness industry. This article will give you some real knowledge on the issue and help to give you a much clearer view.
The most common myth surrounding weight training and children is that it will stunt their growth. In our bones, there are some things called growth plates. They are located towards the ends of the long bones of the body which are the point at which growth occurs. The common belief is that weight training while the skeletal system is still developing , damages these growth plates. I challenge you to do some research on the topic and try and find a scientific study that proves this theory. It simply doesn’t exist. You will however, run across several studies proving that in fact, even in pre-pubescent children, significant gains in bone mineral density are made which means the bones become stronger and more resilient. This is not to mention other benefits including stronger muscles, increased joint integrity, greater flexibility and improved coordination. Growth plates can be damaged by severe trauma more commonly seen in motorbike accidents etc. This kind of trauma will not occur when they are shown how to do exercises properly and suitable progression is used. People are designed to lift heavy objects from time to time. Generally speaking, the risks in playing a sport such as soccer or football far outweigh those of a properly supervised and implemented weights program.
So we know if done properly ,weight training isn’t going to harm our kids and we know it will actually significantly enhance their development. Does this mean we buy them a gym set and get them into it right away? The answer is no, we need a bit more thought before we jump into anything. In my opinion it relies more on the child’s mental development rather than how physically mature they are. One of the major things that needs to be considered is their ability to concentrate and follow instruction. Certainly, the younger a child, the shorter their attention span tends to be. For this reason it is advisable that children should not only be shown how to do exercises correctly in the first place, but also be supervised at all times when doing them. This will ensure correct mechanics, a much reduced chance of injury and maximum results. Consider this, kids as young as 16 can legally drive a car but can they do it safely time and time again without supervision after we show them once? Of course not, hence our learner driver laws. The same principal applies with weight training. We cannot expect to show a child (whatever their age) how to do a series of exercises once and expect them to turn up in a couple of days time and do them perfectly, follow safe and sensible progression principles and most importantly be safe. Supervision is key! Without it you are both risking injury and hampering results.
Let’s not forget for one second that lifting weights incorrectly has the potential to hurt absolutely anybody, myself included. With kids in mind, the most important part of the puzzle is the person teaching them. Don’t forget they are still developing their ability to concentrate and remember how to perform specific tasks. If you are going to encourage your child towards a strength training program, make sure you get someone who is qualified and knowledgeable in the area to not only teach them in the first place, but to supervise them whenever they are in the weights room!
At the end of the day, kids are much like adults in that if they see value in what they are doing they will continue to do it. We certainly want them to carry these good habits right through adolescence and well into adulthood ,so they need to be getting value out of what they are doing. This may come in the form of making sure the sessions are fun and providing lots of encouragement. It may be the kids themselves seeing and feeling the results of their labour out on the sporting field on a Saturday morning. However you do it, get kids exercising and keep them doing it! By doing this we are creating habits for life and shaping a happier healthier world than the one we live in today.
Yours in health, Jacob McLuskie