Written by Benjamin Wellburn
There has always been an urban myth that weightlifting whilst going through puberty can cause damage to the body, stunt your growth, and stop you from reaching your full height. But how true is this?
The myth arises from the idea that during puberty, human growth plates are at their most active, and that taking part in weightlifting can damage these, thus stopping them from allowing you to grow.
Since this has been a source of interest towards scientists and researchers for many years, there is now a large body of evidence to suggest that it is actually advantageous for teens, as it increases muscular strength, size and structure. In short, teen weightlifting does not stunt growth.
Growth Plates – Can you damage them?
In children and teens, is the area of growing tissue near the end of the long bones in children and adolescents. These plates determine the length and shape of the fully grown, mature bone. Once growth has finished, the growth plates close and are replaced by normal, solid bone.
It is possible to damage growth plates, and these injuries occur in adolescents. Due to the plates being the weakest part of the skeleton, it is more easily fractured than other bones. Generally, these fractures occur more frequently in boys than girls, as boys bodies’ develop more slowly (this increases the probability of injuring them as they have growth plates for longer), and are generally caused by falls.
How can weightlifting damage growth plates?
Weightlifting brings the same risk of causing damage to growth plates as any other sport, however the injuries generally occur for one of three reasons:
- Poor technique
- Lifting above recommended capacity
- Lifting without guidance of a supervising adult
How can this damage stunt growth?
For the most part, fractures to growth plates heal and cause no long lasting effects. However, there are some factors which can cause an increase in early growth plate arrest. This arrest means that the bone will no longer grow. The factors include:
-The severity of the injury
-Age of the child
-Type of fracture
The severity plays a large part in whether or not there will be stunted growth, because if there is a for example multiple fractures, shattered bone etc. then there will be a much higher chance of the growth plate not being able to heal without any issues.
The age of a child also plays a big role in stunted growth, due to the fact that at a younger age, bones have more growing to do, thus the more likely that any stunted growth will become a physiological issue.
The type of fracture can have a direct effect on the probability of growth being stunted as certain types of fractures cause more damage to the growth plate than others – for example a compression fracture, where the rest of the bone crushes the growth plate is a much more serious fracture than just a basic fracture.
How to prevent injury
Although impossible to remove the risk of injury, there are simple ways to minimise the risk. A sensible training regime will rule out the changes of lifting too heavy, whilst being taught by a qualified strength and conditioning coach on proper technique will eliminate poor technique. Lifting in weightlifting classes offers opportunities to be supervised at all times, by people who are able to spot any issues with poor technique.
Benefits of weightlifting
The WHO rightly supports participation in physical activities, including those that increase the strength of bone and muscle. It’s a well known fact that having more muscle, burns more calories per day, therefore resistance training (weightlifting) to build muscle will aid those trying to lose weight. Regular resistance training also builds up supporting muscles, thus reducing the chances of injuries occurring. This has been shown in numerous studies, for example in Cahill and Griffith’s study of adolescent football players, whereby regular weight training reduced the number of knee injuries, and also knee injuries needing surgery.
Take home message
To summarise, as long as training is supervised, carried out with correct technique and at a weight which the body is comfortable with, the chances of damaging a growth plate are equally as low as breaking a bone whilst going for a run. Weightlifting does not stunt growth, and there is a large body of evidence to support the taking part of resistance training to improve body composition as a teen. It improves stabilising muscles such as the core and back muscles, as well as teaching teens a multitude of life lessons, such as continuous work, long term effort and taking the good with the bad.