Q | My child wants to start lifting weights, but I’ve heard it can stunt growth. Is that true?
A | If a child starts strength training with the goal of building muscle or lifting maximal weight, injury to growth plates can be an issue. The effort isn’t worth the risk, especially since muscular growth in children is unlikely before puberty, says Melissa Hinkley, CSCS, cofounder of 1RM Performance in San Diego.
But when pursued appropriately, youth strength training can have numerous benefits, including improved coordination, bone-mineral density, and motor skills, as well as reduced risk of sports-related injuries.
Hinkley recommends that children begin under the guidance of a qualified coach or trainer, and that they start with body-weight exercises. Once the child can control a body-weight movement, it’s OK to add external loads such as dumbbells, medicine balls, weighted PVC pipes, or even barbells, with a focus on functional, multijoint movements. (Think squats instead of biceps curls.)
For prepubescent children, lighter weights for higher repetitions of 10 to 15 per set are safe and effective, says Hinkley. After puberty, trainees can progress to higher loads for fewer reps, aiming for four to eight reps per set.