Weightlifting for Kids? New Research Says Pump It Up

Filed under: In The News, Health

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Kids should exercise to strengthen their muscles and bones three times a week. Credit: Getty

If your kid has been asking to lift weights but you've been afraid to let him because of safety concerns, you may want to ease up on your anxiety in light of some new exercise recommendations.

Although weightlifting has long been considered a no-no for kids because of a widespread belief that it stunts their growth, the Globe and Mail reports that letting your kids pump iron is now considered completely safe.

It was once thought that kids who lift weights might damage their epiphyseal plates, the growth plates found in bones, which could then stunt their growth. However, there isn't good evidence that this is true, Ian Janssen, assistant professor in the school of kinesiology and health studies at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, tells the newspaper.

The myth developed because of the noticeably short stature of many gymnasts, Janssen says, but this is simply a "selection issue," as kids who are shorter than their peers are more likely to be pushed toward gymnastics because of their lower center of gravity.

The issue recently made news in Canada in light of new fitness guidelines released last week by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP). These guidelines recommend that youth, ages 5 to 17, get at least one hour of physical activity a day at moderate to vigorous intensity, including muscle- and bone-strengthening activities at least three days a week, the newspaper reports.

Although the guidelines don't suggest 5-year-olds take up weightlifting, CSEP experts tell the Globe and Mail it is perfectly safe as long as kids have proper supervision.

"If you look at the relative incidence of injuries of everything Canadian kids do, playing hockey, skateboarding, skiing etc., the incidence of injury for those sports is much higher than any children who have ever been on a strength training program," Dr. David Behm, co-author of the CESP position paper on resistance training in children and adolescents, tells the newspaper.

Behm adds that lifting weights actually helps prevent injuries, since it builds bone density and strengthens muscles, while building tendons and connective tissue that are also denser and stronger.

And, he adds, no child is too young to start lifting weights.

"Physiologically, there is absolutely no reason why a kid can't resistance train," he tells the Globe and Mail.

At CrossFit Calgary gym in Calgary, Canada, kids as young as 6 can do curls with 2-pound dumbbells, but only after they learn proper form and to not over-exert themselves. But learning to lift properly can take months, Chantal Theberge, the gym's kids and teens program director, tells the Globe and Mail.

"Kids don't get a weight in their hand until they have the movement down perfectly," Theberge says. "If we have a 9-year-old or an 8-year-old who has the movement down perfectly, they're going to get 5-pound dumbbells."

According to Janssen, the boost to bone density kids can get from weight training is crucial because bone density peaks and begins to decline at around age 20. So, the more kids build up when they're young, the more they'll have remaining as they start to lose bone density when they're older.

But Behm tells the Globe and Mail it's important kids don't overdo it and are supervised properly.

"It's all a maturity thing," Behm says. "Typically, what's going to happen is that kids are going to want to have a weightlifting contest. Johnny lifts 50 pounds and so Tommy wants to lift 55 pounds and they want to lift it over their heads and they drop it on their heads. You've got to have somebody there to make sure it's a weight-training program and not a weightlifting program."

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.