Does Weight Training Make My Child Short?

by Dr. Sidharth J Unnithan

Contrary to popular belief, scientific studies consistently debunk the myth that weight training stunts a child's growth. Numerous studies have come in place where researchers have done rigorous, long-term studies which provide substantial evidence supporting the safety of weight training for children, emphasizing the importance of proper supervision and adherence to scientific guidelines.

Benefits of weight training in children

For children, weight training is essential for fostering hormonal balance. Studies reveal that growth hormone levels increase with resistance-based training, contributing to height enhancement. This balanced hormonal environment also positively influences testosterone levels in males and progesterone levels in females, minimizing injury risks and promoting overall well-being.

The health of children's bones could be greatly impacted by weight training.. Loading bones during weight training promotes calcification and denser bone formation, contributing to overall bone growth and strength. However, a key risk lies in unsupervised techniques, emphasizing the importance of proper guidance and supervision during weight training sessions.

Early weight training yields long-term benefits for the musculoskeletal system. Strength training significantly reduces the risk of injury in addition to helping to build muscle. Studies have shown that children who play sports such as football, cricket, basketball or sports that involve lot of jumping will have a higher risk to injure their ligaments like Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), including two days of strengthening will have a huge difference in injury reduction.

Role of nutrition

Nutrition plays a pivotal role in mitigating potential negative effects of weight training. Although there aren't many concerns associated with weight training, poor nutrition can cause developmental delays and raise the risk of injuries. A balanced diet with sufficient protein from natural sources is crucial for optimal growth and muscle development.

How to set a proper weight training regime for children

There are specific guidelines to follow for an effective exercise routine for children. It is recommended to begin with a proper warm-up lasting 5 to 10 minutes before engaging in any form of strength training. Following the warm-up, children should proceed with their strength training regimen, followed by a cooldown of another 5 to 10 minutes.

For any exercise involving weights, it is advised to start without weights, focusing on mastering proper technique. To guarantee proper form, youngsters should first practise exercises like the biceps curl without the use of weights. The same goes for other exercises, like deadlifts, where it's important to show perfect form before increasing the weight.

Strength training extends beyond traditional free weights; incorporating various resistance methods like resistance tubes, bands, medicine balls, and machines (for adolescents around 16 years old) adds diversity to the routine. This variety not only contributes to better growth in children but also prevents boredom for them.

Supervision is crucial, with at least 2 to 3 days of strengthening exercises per week being sufficient for children. Promoting engagement in sports and other activities that require jumping helps promote development and reduces the risk of injury. Injury prevention is significantly aided by strength training. 

Children can start a mild form of weight training from the age of 7 or 8, but it requires close supervision, and progression should be gradual. Strength training not only helps to build muscle but also dramatically lowers the risk of injury.

 If the child can complete these repetitions without difficulty, a gradual increase of 5 percent in weight, such as moving from 2 to 2.5 kilos, can be considered. On the other hand, if the child finds it difficult to perform even 10 repetitions, the weight may be too much for them.

As we dispel the myths surrounding weight training and children's growth, a holistic approach that includes proper nutrition, varied resistance methods, and regular participation in sports further amplifies the positive impact of strength training.

Prepared by: Dr. Sidharth J Unnithan Consultant - Sports Medicine, Aster Medcity, Kochi