Children performing weights are at risk from bone damage?
An exhaustive review of the literature on this subject has been published by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (USA) in their Journal Vol. 18.6 December 1996).
(a) Children should avoid maximal efforts
Children, particularly boys have been encouraged to perform chin-ups and push ups in PE lessons for many years. Author and teacher Wayne Westcott reports “Like 50 percent of all young people, then and now, I could not chin myself and always felt embarrassed struggling to lift my body weight. It was always interesting to me that this all-out, gut wrenching muscular effort was considered good but that any form of weight training was considered bad”. Weight training can be done with a light (PVC or wooden) bar to learn correct technique. Trying to lift the whole body or another child, without sufficient strength, could cause poor posture and possibly lead to injury.
(b) Weight training will damage the skeleton.
For years it was said that children should not weight train or lift because bone damage could lead to stunted growth. More recently it is suggested that children can do weight training, but should not perform maximal lifts. There is no recorded case of stunted growth resulting from weight training or lifting. There have been wrist fractures as a result of falls whilst training, always in an unsupervised setting. The fractures healed without ensuing complications.
Weight training will promote bone growth and strengthen the skeleton. Research suggests that free weights are superior to machines in this respect. A Russian study compared two groups of boys; lifters versus an inactive control group. The weightlifting group developed more rapidly in height and bone density.
Arnold Schwarzenegger started body-building at the age of 13. To become a champion at the age of 18, Arnold must have trained very intensely. Arnold’s adult height is 6′ 2″. Would he have grown this tall had weights stunted his growth!
It is – increasing in strength. The fact that a child can do more as it gets older is partly because of strength increases, accommodating a growing skeleton and increased workload. It is surely evident that children from rural backgrounds, used to heavy work, are stronger and more muscular that their urban counterparts.
Muscles grow longer more quickly than tendons. This is one factor leading to Osgood Schlatters syndrome. Full range, non ballistic weight training helps to stretch tendons, and may thus protect adolescents from such syndromes. The attitude towards the question of permitting specialisation for weightlifting or training at a fairly early age must surely be reviewed. Young people’s weight lifting or training is safe given the presence of an experienced coach hand in hand with the principles of a broad based physical education. The competitive disciplines can be introduced carefully taking into account the child’s physical, emotional and intellectual characteristics.