I am somewhat aghast that I am writing about this…again. But, alas, the misconceptions and downright fictional ‘truths’ seem to abound and voices of reason attempting to teach facts are all too often lost in the background noise.
Is it safe for youth and teens to train with weights?
For some reason this question abounds. There is overwhelming evidence both researched and anecdotal answering this question I am dumbfounded when I am asked.
Yes. It is perfectly safe.
Not only is it perfectly safe it is much safer than if this population did not strength train! That’s right, NOT strength training is far worse for youth and teens than getting their bodies stronger actually is.
I am going to attempt to keep this article short. Attempt.
Here are the main arguments people give when they spew off the dangers.
- It will stunt their growth and ruin their growth plates.
- It will wreck their joints
- It isn’t safe to be lifting too much weight
Let’s break it down (go back and read those last three words again, I busted out a sick hip hop beat and rapped that when I wrote it – I would like if you did to).
Will strength training stunt young peoples growth and ruin their growth plates.
Oh, you wanted more. Ok. My favorite part of this argument is that 99.9% of the time it is some parent or volunteer coach who has no idea what a growth plate even is, how it functions, and the physiological process surrounding growth plates and their development. But THEY KNOW that lifting a weight will ruin them and create a generation of stunted limbed could have been athletes.
The facts are that there is zero, repeat, zero, evidence in the scientific literature that resistance training has any negative impact on growth and growth plates. None. Anecdotally, I have yet to hear of this kind of damage happening to anyone, ever.
Want to see the research? Google search NSCA’s position paper – it has over 60 journal citations on this NOT controversial topic!
This belief must have come from the same idiots who caused us all to believe that cholesterol in food was going to lead to an epidemic of heart disease despite the entire scientific community telling them this wasn’t true.
Oh the things people believe.
Strength training will wreck young people’s joints
It can. For sure.
So can stepping off a curb wrong and twisting your ankle. Getting hit hard in football. Falling wrong in gymnastic practice. Falling down the stairs.
Strength training is no more likely then any of the above activities to wreck adolescent joints. And you don’t see parents and coaches in an uproar to get rid of curbs and ban football teams.
In fact, strength training has the benefit of increasing muscular strength, which in turn can protect the joints. Fancy that!
Now, I will add a caveat. Strength training has to be done right. Especially for adolescents it is important that they are doing the right programming and have a qualified person teaching them what to do. I believe strength training sometimes gets a bad wrap because:
- There is a focus on machine-based stupidity. Get off the stupid machines. Especially the leg extension, smith machine, and leg press. These things have no place in young people’s (or anyone’s) program. Letting the muscles get too strong with out the tendons and ligaments adapting as well IS dangerous and machine based training can exacerbate this.
- Too many stupid people teaching fitness. Now, I don’t think most of these people are ACTUALLY stupid. But they sure disrespect what I do for a living. A teacher who took a couple of fitness classes in college or a parent/coach who workouts out at the local Y IS NOT A QUALIFIED FITNESS INSTRUCTOR.
Got that? Seriously. This is important. Just as much focus has to go into the supervision and instruction of strength training as goes into supervision and instruction of the sport itself. Make sure there is a qualified person teaching the form and programming.
It isn’t safe to lift too much weight
It isn’t safe to life more weight than you are capable of handling. At any age. It is perfectly safe for adolescents to lift large amounts of weight if they have been properly instructed, have a good program, and follow a progressive resistance program.
Watch a soccer or lacrosse athlete. See when they are running down the field and then they very suddenly stop and change directions? This movement is often called cutting.
At the moment of stopping and direction change the loads on the joints can be as much as 3x bodyweight. And these loads are almost always unilateral (on one leg) and in an unstructured and unknown position. That is three times bodyweight being slammed through the hip, knee, and ankle in hundredths of a second with enough physics variables being thrown around to confuse Einstein.
Trust me, a basic squat is way safer than that. Body-weight, on two feet, in a controlled environment is much safer. If you can play sports you can strength train.
Sports can do a body good. They can also really fuck it up. Bad. Limited joint ranges of motion, repetitive movement leading to imbalances, and huge impacts from collisions and falls are all very real outcomes of sport participation.
ALL athletes need to be participating in a strength program that prepares their body for the rigor of sport. A well crafted program can balance muscular strength, ensure full joint range during movement, prepare the tendons and ligaments for additional loads, and help to improve the bodies basic proprioception.
What about non-athletes?
I would fathom to guess that improving strength, appearance, confidence, cardiovascular health, and decreasing stress and depression would all be valuable gains for any adolescent. Additionally, strength training can be as simple as bodyweight exercises leading to a very low cost of entry so anyone can participate regardless of access or socioeconomic status. Especially today, with the issues of obesity, depression, and bullying at the forefront of our younger generations, strength training is an invaluable tool.
All of these benefits of strength training are well documented in a variety of scientific sources.
What does all of this mean?
Not only is strength training safe for youth and teens, it is actually extremely good for them. We should be encouraging strength training and creating programs to increase participation.
If you hear anyone spewing off the dangers of weight training for youths and teens, pipe up and correct them. Or send them my way because I have no problem spreading the truth.
And they are probably the same people who freak out about protein powder and the dangers of teen boys ‘getting on it.’ Lol. That is a whole other article….