CAN CHILDREN DO WEIGHT TRAINING?
Health and Fitness, over the years, has caught attention of one and all across the Globe. People across age groups have started following fitness programs suiting them, Yoga, Gym, Zumba, Healthy eating habits for both weight loss and gaining muscles and the list is endless.
The trend has caught up with Teenagers also and most of us would have seen a few teenagers in our gyms. Many Pre-adolescent children also feel tempted to join gym seeing the toned muscles, big biceps, 6 pack abs and overall toned body of adults who join gym. But many parents feel it is unsafe and can harm the children in more than one way.
So we decided to throw some light on the subject and separate the myth from the facts established by research.
For this discussion, the term Children would refer to girls and boys upto age of 11 and 13 years respectively, who have not reached puberty. The term Adolescence would refer to 12-18 years age for girls and 14-18 years age for boys.
First of all, lets us understand why would anyone need strength training and especially why Children. Why only aerobics or healthy eating can’t meet everyone’s needs?
This is because while Aerobics helps primarily in keeping heart and lung healthy and also helps in weight loss due to high calorie expenditure, strength training helps you to tone and build muscles, boost bone density and also helps to burn fat. Today any weight loss program is a measured combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercises. If anyone wants to bulk up, he/she must undertake weight training.
WHO recognizes physical inactivity as fourth leading risk factor for Global mortality for non-communicable disease. These days, with more sedentary lifestyle owing to Covid-19 situation, Children aren’t as active as they used to be before which calls for attention.
Besides toning body and increasing muscles resistance training has also been found to enhance motor skill performance in Children compared to those who didn’t do resistance training. It sets foundation for an active lifestyle which benefits them over long run, in addition to boosting confidence of the child.
Knowing the significance of Weight training, now we need to understand what are the risks for Kids and mitigation options if any. We also need to find out if the risks outweigh the benefits.
There are many concerns in the minds of parents for sending their children for weight training.
- High risk of Injury
- Adverse effect on growth i.e. stunting of height
- Strength gains may not be realized as Children in pre-puberty age don’t have androgens to reap the full benefits
- Body flexibility will get reduced if a child does weight training
So let’s start with what National Health Portal of Government of India suggests as per WHO guidelines
For children and adolescents ages 5-17 years, WHO recommends min 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity.
Moderate- intensity physical activity Carrying/ moving moderate loads (<20kg).
Vigorous-intensity Physical activity Carrying /shifting heavy loads (>20 kg).
Physical activity includes play, games, sports, transportation, recreation, physical education, or planned exercise, in the context of family, school and community activities.
WHO also mentions that Vigorous intensity activities such as those for strengthening muscle and bone should be incorporated at least 3 times a week.
We found several studies have been done on the impact of weight training on Children’s growth. The fear that parents have lies in the fact that during the pre-adolescent stage, the cartilage of the epiphyseal plates has the primary function of providing for the longitudinal growth of the bone.
Since the strength of the cartilage is less than that of the bone, the growth plate is a weak link in the skeleton. At Puberty, Estrogen and Testosterone release initiates closure process of the epiphyseal plates which is when the growth of the human body comes to stagnation. When bone growth is complete, the epiphyseal cartilage is replaced with bone, and this is called closure of the epiphyseal plate.
The development of growth plates stop when they get damaged due to fractures in them. These fractures are generally due to injuries when there is heavy impact on them.
Studies show that while there are some Epiphyseal fractures observed in young weight lifters, but every single case was owing to a poor form or the use of maximum lifts. But please remember these are heavy lifters and are lifting heavier than the WHO mentioned weights.