We've all heard it... lifting weights as a kid will stunt their growth. My grandfather, who was a vet, wrestling coach, father of 11, and all around badass, wouldn't let his kids lift until high school. They would stick to push ups and sit ups until they entered 9th grade, and often very high level play at that age, especially as a wrestler in Iowa. Although the recommendation had good intentions it was detrimental to the athletes in several aspects of health. We know better today, lifting does amazing things for children both physically and psychologically. Here is my top 4 reasons you need to get your kid under a barbell.
1. Self Confidence
This made the top of the list for a reason. How many of us grew up with insecurities about the dumbest things? Height, weight, acne, glasses, braces, growing too fast, growing too slow, literally anything and everything. Especially young woman, as they begin to mature and develop quicker than the boys you see rounded shoulders and slumped posture. Anything to hide their developing bodies and attempt to blend in with their peers. But watch what happens when the entire culture around them changes. Put the kid into the middle of a culture of empowerment and strength. Put them into a gym. Not a globogym where they can wonder aimlessly with the other lost souls, but into a class specifically for weightlifting for kids. Obviously the proper precautions are taken, screening is done, and form is perfected but watch what happens when they realise that change isn't bad. As they develop they can lift weight... heavy weight. They can put a barbell on their back and squat deep and stand back up. The bodies are more mobile then ever and flooded with hormones affording essentially the perfect training environment. Kids start walking with confidence. Talking to more people, joining sports teams they wouldn't have considered, entering competitions, hiking, running, lifting.
In this culture, and at our gym there is no average. Average is the enemy. Average is boring, lazy, unadenturous, and monotonous. Be a freak. Stand tall, strong and proud. These are qualities I learned late. Imagine what life would be like to have this mentality instilled at an early age.
2. begin an active lifestyle
Playing off of number 1, with improved self confidence and improved fitness kids begin doing things they would have never entertained before. Hiking, joining a fun run or triathlon, joining sports teams and entering competitions. The new found attributes empower children to explore the world phyiscally. This active lifestyle carries over into adulthood because once you begin a life full of passion and adventure you would never consider returning to one on the couch.
3. Injury Resistance
A little known fact is ACL injuries in young woman are an epidemic! We typically associate ACL tears with NFL and NBA players, never the 13 year old girls basketball athlete right? It is happening and there is way to help. Movement efficiency is everything. Young women tend to grow very quickly. Not knowing how to control the body quite yet can be confusing and lead to some very ugly movement compensation patterns. You remember the "gangly" stage right, knock knees and all? Well that is what happens often when left to figure out how to jump, run, change direction, and play on their own. Sometimes the movement patterning needs a bit of coaching.
Now, accidents happen which is why number 3 is not "avoid injury." We will get hurt occasionally playing sports and being active but when we jump and land with a stable spine and torque in our hips, we sure decrease that risk.
4. Improved Skeletal Structure
Adding stress through weightlifting to our skeletal system actually stimulates our bodies to make the bones more structurally dense and stronger. This could easily be tacked on to the previous bullet because stronger bones will help with injury resistance but it warants a bullet all its own. Progressive external loading has long been used in the elderly population to help decrease osteopenia and risk of osteoporotic fractures. These fractures are often the straw that breaks the camels back in terms of fast declining health in old age. But the principle somehow was lost with children.
Contrary to the old myth, the bones actually get stronger in kids too. The Journal of Bone and Mineral Research published a study including 71 premenarcheal girls aged 9-10 and measured their lean body mass, strength, and bone mineral response over the course of a 10 month high impact strength building exercise program. I'm sure you can guess the results. Everything got better... significantly better. After attributing some results to growth to be expected at this age, the researchers concluded what we already know... it works!
This list of my top 4 barely scrapes the surface but you get my point. Strength training, specifically lifting weights is not something to be avoided as young people. We need to show our kids the benefits of lifting weights and exercising because the reward far outweighs any risk. The old myth needs to die as we show our children how to find their strength.