Contrary to popular belief, weight training can be safe and good for children, and does not make them short, dumpy and susceptible to weak joints and injuries for the rest of their lives. An article published in the medical journal Pediatrics and written by researchers from the German Sport University Cologne (Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln) shows that resistance training can not only be safe for children, it is also beneficial, some would even say essential.

The authors explain that previous studies have demonstrated the benefits of resistance training for adolescents and children. However, different age groups and maturity levels’ response to such exercises have not been clearly understood.

The researchers set out to determine what the effects of resistance training might have on different age groups and maturity levels.

They gathered data from academic journals, specialized books and electronic bibliographic databases – a total of 60 years’ worth of studies on weight training among children aged 6 to 18.

They found that in virtually every case, weight training benefitted the children. They added that the older ones gained slightly more strength compared to the younger ones.

They were surprised to find that gains in strength did not suddenly shoot up after puberty, even though testosterone levels would be high for the boys at that point in their maturity.

Consistency was closely linked to strength gain. Those who did weight training twice a week or more developed more strength compared to the children who just trained once a week.

Muscle endurance and motor performance tests were not included in the study.

The authors concluded:

    The results of our analysis indicate that the ability to gain muscular strength seems to increase with age and maturational status, but there is no noticeable boost during puberty. Furthermore, study duration and the number of performed sets were found to have a positive impact on the outcome.

Experts say that children’s nervous systems start acting more efficiently when they weight train regularly. The addition of muscle bulk happens more quickly in adults, it seems. Some sports science researchers have said that the added nervous system benefits, plus gained strength reduces the risk of injury for children, rather than increasing it.

So, does weight training stunt a child’s growth? No. However, children should be supervised when weight training and have a sports professional devise a program of exercise.

Weight training does not necessarily mean the use of weights. Examples include chin ups (pull ups), push ups (press ups), and lunges.

“Effects of Resistance Training in Children and Adolescents: A Meta-analysis”
Michael Behringer, Dr med, Andreas vom Heede, MSS, Zengyuan Yue, Dr mech, Joachim Mester, Dr paed, Dr hc mult
PEDIATRICS Vol. 126 No. 5 November 2010, pp. e1199-e1210 (doi:10.1542/peds.2010-0445)

Written by Christian Nordqvist