I have been asked many questions relating to health and fitness and weight training over the last 23 years in the gym.
If I knew the answer to the question of when it is safe for children to weight train, I would be lying. However, after all that time and my love of deducing conclusions from simply observations of consistent trends around me, I would like to attempt to provide a solution.
I will use my powers of reasoning I have developed in my 40 years on this earth, so far.
Here we go ….
I am truly inspired by older generations who have maintained resistance training for most of their lives. Almost all of them look and feel like someone 10, 15 even 20 years younger.
“Leading Legends” – that’s what I call them. They are great examples of making it part of lifestyle.
Some of them used to tell me about how perceptions have changed over the last 50 years in regards to exercise in general and in particular – the many myths relating to weight training.
There were and still are many myths relating to weight training. There was a time when people were saying that weight training wasn’t good for women. Before that athletes like rugby players were told to stay away from weight training as it would ‘slow’ them down – this wasn’t too long ago – even in the 70s.
And even further back, it was even questioned whether weight training was in fact good for anyone at all. Times change and myths get busted. Myths are just that – myths and are meant to be dis-proven.
It is only in more recent times that the general public has accepted that weight-training is of enormous benefit to women too. I am so happy about the increase in women attending gyms as I have seen this landscape change quite a bit over the last two decades.
Now, my question is if weight training is now believed to be of enormous benefit for men and women, why shouldn’t it be good for children? After all isn’t exercise good for everyone?
The truth or my version of ‘the truth’ in my straight-forward answer is that weight training can benefit any individual – young or old – who is healthy enough to engage in the activity. But that is just my opinion.
I have helped hundreds of people of all ages – kids under ten (including my children) all the way to people in their 90s. Human physiology is the same no matter what age. To weight train – you do one thing: work the muscles. To do this, you literally extend and contract that particular muscle under tension/force provided by the weight.
The very old and the very young and everyone in-between can do that. It’s what muscles are meant to do: to ‘work’ for you.
There are still myths relating to children training even in today’s world. The biggest fear amongst parents appear to be the possible negative effects on the development of children prior to puberty – that lifting stunts the growth of children.
If this was the case, the famous Arnold Schwarzenegger would should not have grown to 6’2” as he started lifting weights well before he hit puberty. I am not a Doctor but I believe this irrational fear is unfounded medically.
My question is if weight-training was a height depressant, why is it that considerable growth can sometimes take place in the ‘post-puberty’ years. And if this was a medical fact, then, everyone should only start weight-training when their full height potential has been reached. For some, this would be well in to their early twenties.
The issue as I see it relates to the formation and growth of bones. I can understand the parents’ worries, including my family Doctor’s. From what I understand about what I have read about bones, the process of bone formation and growth is hopelessly complex and wonderfully simple at the same time.
If I recall correctly, Tiger Woods picked up and was training in golf from the age of 2 and was coached by his dad. Leytton Hewitt began playing tennis around the age of 3. Some top swimmers were undergoing stringent 4am early-morning training programs from a very young age, where parents were driving them to and from swimming pools. I know because I had good friends that were doing that when we were in Primary School.
Not many made the Olympics.
Is this any different to subjecting a child to some gym training under supervision in a gym? How is it that the perception of risk of a child in the gym is greater than that of a child on a soccer field, swimming pool, golf course or rugby field? What about a child playing tennis or netball? How are these risk assessments done?
I believe the risks to a child and his or her growing bones and muscles is higher with the other sporting activities compared to the risks associated with supervised structured weight-training.
In my opinion the risk to bones, joints and muscle development and overall health risk (injuries from knocks to the brain and head in Rugby or other contact sports) is greater to the young kids playing most sporting activity outside the gym, compared to structured activity in the gym.
I believe proper muscular development assisted by a well-structured weight-training program, complements whatever sporting activity a child/person chooses.
It simply makes them a better athlete. A better athlete gets better results.
The risks to the joints of the other sporting activities – like golf, tennis, netball, swimming, running etc is HIGH. The wear and tear to the joints is very high.
The joints are over used, and there is accelerated wear and tear and it shortens the effective useful life of your body. Just like any other machine of value you possess – say a car, for example. Depreciation rates can vary depending on how you use and service your machines.
Most individuals then suffer from premature ageing (from over-use) of joints and really suffer uncomfortable daily living later on in life. However, the risks to the child’s self-esteem; sense of self-worth and interest need to also be monitored too. Participants can be severely negatively affected because of the constant expectations of tolerance levels.
Weight-training done safely and under appropriate supervision is a safer and more beneficial to a child’s whole-self development then any other physical activity there is. Weight-training complements and helps make a child better at whichever sport they choose to participate in.
It is only now that tightening of regulations are being implemented to address not only some current risks but also long-term risks sustained by athletes.
My children are as comfortable with a set of light dumbells, not dissimilar to young budding soccer players or tennis juniors with footballs and rackets in camp and sporting academies. In this controlled soccer environments, no one appears to question the deliberate practises these children are forced to undertake in non-weight-bearing activities and how safe it is.
Just because a big majority of people are sending their kids there does not mean it is the safest or have the lowest risks.
Or how many instances of injuries are sustained by the very young, many of whom are regularly seeing physios and chiros at an age that is unheard of only a few decades ago.
What does this tell us? About the risks these kids are putting themselves under, the full extent will become evident in their later years.
People are only too quick to place gym training as a high risk but this is yet another myth and here is where I believe the problem is:
It is the inability of parents and administrators of sporting activities to initially correctly assess the level of risks. Yes, self-limiting beliefs unfairly bestowed on to children by parents who know no better.
Maybe they just need to adopt a new thinking paradigm that assists in the development of the ability to assess risks of activities and whether or not the risk is acceptable to them.
Time will bust these myths. Big Truths will always beat Big Lies.
Believe in BETTER.
Make better choices with the life that you have left, with the lives of your children. Time on this planet is all that we really have anyway and one day … that will be taken from all of us.
This is one of those BIG TRUTHS or is this a BIG LIE? Anyone believe this is a MYTH?
All the best.
Until next time,