Does this sound like you?
You’re searching for the best way to help your teen become
- more active
- get stronger
- increase their fitness level and
- feel better about themselves in the process
You’ve heard lifting weights might be part of the answer, but you’re scared… you’re not sure when it’s safe for teens to start strength training…
I mean lifting weights can cause damage. It will stunt their growth, turn a teenage girl into a hulking beast and a teenage boy into a muscle bound meathead.
In 1983 The American Academy of Paediatrics advised against weightlifting in children and when a major medical organization puts their stamp of disapproval on a health activity, people listen…
… regardless of whether the recommendation is based on fact or fiction.
Are any of these true? Is it safe for your teen to train?
Let’s explore the top 3 myths about teens and strength training.
myth #1 strength training will stunt their growth
This is the most common myth that causes resistance from parents when considering a strength-training program for their teens.
The fear of damaging sensitive growth centres in a child’s developing bones is enough to keep teens on the sidelines for far too long.
While true, damage to a growth plate can disrupt the flow of blood and lead to abnormal growth in the affected limb…
… a teenager is much more likely to experience this type of injury with running, jumping or playing sports like soccer.
Most injuries from fitness equipment occur in the home in unsupervised settings… meaning the teens were horsing around on the equipment.
Training in an appropriate setting with coaching actually leads to less injuries than general recess play at school.
It could be argued that a properly designed strength training program could even help prevent the injuries parents are fearful of in the first place.
In 2008 the AAP revised its earlier position promoting the safety and benefits of strength training and children.
What great news… training will not increase your teen’s risk of growth plate injury compared to regular activities, and it will increase their strength, their metabolic rate, mental health and bone density.
myth #2 strength training will make teenage girls bulky
“Bulky” is a highly subjective term and dependent on each person’s view of what constitutes an ideal body type. Nonetheless, for anyone to get from where they currently are, they need to move through a series of stages.
No one goes from a “slim” body to a “bulky” body over night, just like no one goes from a 30-pound squat to a 300-pound squat over night.
What strength training will do is help to develop the best version of any body type.
Body type does not always indicate strength, especially in teen girls and pre-pubescant boys. True strength comes from the number of muscle fibres properly coordinated through the nerve system for the desired movement…
… this means your body doesn’t have to be big and bulky to be strong.
With the help of eating by design, wholesome, nutrient dense foods, managing stress and getting adequate sleep…weight lifting can maximize the hormonal profile of a teen to stimulate better health development.
myth #3 strength training will make teenage boys muscle bound
While adding some lean muscle is the dream of many teen males, no parent wants to see their child become muscle-bound and inflexible.
Not to worry…this is a myth too!
Weight training with proper form actually increases flexibility as you move your joints through healthy full ranges of motion.
Researchers at the University of North Dakota showed lifting weights may be even better than static stretching as a method to increase joint flexibility.
Before enrolling your teen boy into a strength training program… talk to them about why they want to participate.
It is normal to want to train for aesthetic reasons. Strength training will make you feel better about yourself. Problems arise when “looks” become the sole purpose of training and the teen may become obsessed with exactly how their body looks.
Be sure to talk to your teen about the dangers of the use of performance enhancing substances on long-term health.
The bottom line
While it may have once been “accepted” that training for children and teens should be avoided at all costs, the most current research and expert opinion confirms otherwise.
A controlled weight lifting program, scaled to meet the needs of all participants and progressive enough to increase strength gains is safe and effective for children as young as 7 or 8 years old.
Now that’s a far cry from the original AAP guidelines.
Starting with bodyweight movements and developing into standard strength training with barbells, dumbbells and kettle bells is an exceptional way to begin optimizing your teens health, quality of life, self-esteem and maximizing their future potential.
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