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Fitness myths Part 3. Lifting weights will stunt your child's growth!

The most damaging health and fitness myths continuously perpetuated by the media and so-called ‘fitness experts’

The lie: If you begin resistance training too young it will stunt your growth.

This is actually more believed than almost any myth I can think of, but you don’t often hear about it because it is so rarely challenged.

The Why: Almost every boy wants to grow up to be tall, and this myth plays on that concept, the fear that you may be doing something to deprive yourself of a few precious centimetres is enough to scare off most people.

“Wait until you finish growing first.” Mum said

The theory is that if you start putting pressure on your body while it is still growing, it will react by prematurely closing the growth plates on the end of long bones, resulting in some kind of self-inflicted dwarfism.

Another theory is that putting too much strain on the body during growth phases, when the ends of these bones are weaker than the ligaments that surround them, can cause fractures that will stunt growth.

When do we finish growing though? Some say the growth plates close around sixteen years of age, some say eighteen, and some say twenty-one. The real question is: What is it about resistance training that would cause someone to be end up shorter than their genetic blueprint had planned?

And how do we define lifting weights? Is your body a weight? Can you do chin ups, push ups, and lunges, but if you add a barbell it becomes dangerous to your skeletal growth?

A big factor in this myth is a lack of understanding of correlation and causation.

For example a large percentage of elite level weightlifters and bodybuilders are relatively short in stature, but this does not mean that lifting weights makes you shorter any more than playing professional basketball makes you taller.

These things are often found together for other reasons, in this case having advantageous leverages/body type to become successful in a certain sport.

So what's really happening?

The Truth: Let’s start with some comparisons of forces and pressures in two different situations, a game of rugby and a weight training session.

A rugby game, if properly executed is a dynamic, ballistic and unpredictable environment wherein participants are required to endure multiple high speed collisions in minimal (if any) supportive/protective equipment (pads, helmet, suit of armour). These collisions are fundamentally unrehearsed and can leave one or both of the athletes in an awkward position, under significant load.

The kicker is we as a society have no problem putting our children into this environment from as young as 6 or 7 years old. When was the last time you heard of a 7 year old lifting weights?

A weight training session, if properly executed, is a controlled and predictable environment wherein participants are required to endure multiple repetitions of appropriately selected exercises. These exercises are properly rehearsed at comfortable loads until strength levels allow progression to larger loads.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the game of Rugby, it’s a fast paced and entertaining battle of strength, speed, and skill, what’s not to love? But you can’t tell me that it’s safer than lifting weights. Yet we see Rugby players that grow to nearly 7 feet tall (2.13m), and the average sitting on or above 6 feet (1.82m)

Injury studies conducted by Hamill 1994, Stone 1990 and Stone et al. 1993, puts rugby at number two behind soccer with 1.92 injuries per 100 hours, while weightlifting sits at 0.0012, or 1 injury per 85,733 hours.

Wrapping up: So when we examine the logic of the statement and the statistics that relate, we find that the idea of weight training stunting growth not only has no scientific support, but is actually hampering athletic performance and the potential for our athletes to be bigger, stronger, faster, more agile, have better body awareness, and become more injury resistant by incorporating well designed and executed resistance training programs from a young age.

Until next time…


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