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Weight training before puberty

Weight training before puberty: Is it really dangerous?

Sports biomechanics

Weight training is often not recommended for teenagers who have not reached puberty. The main reasons given are possible disturbances to normal development and bone growth, or the impossibility of significantly increasing strength in young people. Let’s see what science has to say about these arguments.

First of all, bone formation depends on three factors: hormones, nutrition and skeletal loading. While there’s little we can do about hormonal development, and nutrition has a limited impact, weight-bearing – the use of external weights during strength training – is often questioned for young athletes. In any case, mechanical stress combined with bone loading in adolescents results in increased mineralization and bone density [1]. In fact, a study of the body composition of young weightlifters shows that they have a higher bone density than the average for their age group [2]. Strength training could therefore help reduce the risk of fractures and other traumatic injuries. As for the argument that bodybuilding slows down the growth spurt, this is in fact a myth. The American Academy of Pediatrics (2008) and numerous other studies confirm this [3].

Secondly, some people mention that it’s impossible to increase strength in an individual who hasn’t reached puberty. It’s true that without the hormones associated with puberty, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to achieve an apparent physical change in the muscles. However, increasing muscle size is not the only way to increase strength. For beginners, the greatest gains in strength are made in muscle synchronization and activation by the brain. The use of loads helps teenagers learn to force. In this way, they develop more efficient motor patterns that enable them to become stronger without any apparent physical change [4].

Finally, the aim of strength training for adolescents should be to improve movement quality rather than to increase workload. Above all, we mustn’t neglect the fun that should be an integral part of all training with young athletes. Consideration of these factors will enable progressive development while respecting the player’s stage of physical development. Supervision by qualified kinesiologists remains the key to success in training adolescents.

Written by Léandre Gagné Lemieux, M.Sc Kinesiology

1. ACSM’S Health & fitness Journal, Vol. 5, no.5.
2. Virvidakis K, Georgiou E, Kokotsidis A, Ntalles K, Proukakis C. (1990) Int J Sports Med 11(3):244-246.
3. Blimkie CJ (1993) Resistance training during preadolescence. Issues and controversies. Sports Med. 15(6):389-407.
4. Ramsay JA, Bimlkie CJ, Smith K, Garner S, MacDougall JD, et al. (1990) Strenght training effects in prepubescent boys. Med Sci Sports Exercise. 22:605-614.

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