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Weight Training: Risk of Injury

Strength training must be approached with caution and respect. Weights cannot be taken lightly (no pun intended). Old wives’ tales used to suggest that strength training would “stunt your growth.” This could easily happen if there is a major accident that injures the growth plate because it is the weakest area of the bone. Beyond speculation, though, there have been sufficient reports of major injuries to withhold kids from training with weights. Unfortunately, some of those injuries have been deaths. Most of the serious injuries have come from situations with home gym equipment when there was no supervision and the kids were playing around or challenging one another. This problem may not apply to youth teams, but even so, this type of dangerous situation simply must not happen. Youngsters should be taught from the beginning that playing with such equipment is a big no-no, like playing with sharp knives or guns. Not only can they put an eye out, but someone can get seriously hurt. Most of the reported injuries involve unsupervised situations or youth attempting to do a max lift before they are physically developed or have the right instruction.

Injuries have included herniated disks in the back, muscle strains and tears, bone fractures, growth plate injuries, and cartilage damage. If lifting weights is going to be pursued seriously, that type of training should be pursued in the right way and correctly along the developmental pathway. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that explosive types of lifts or heavy Olympic-style lifting should be delayed until the skeleton matures after the growth spurt.

In general, training with weights has been found to help increase strength in children without negative effects on things such as bone growth or blood pressure. Outside the realm of unsupervised home gym equipment, proper strength training has been shown to allow an increase in strength with fewer injuries than occur during recess at school. This does not mean that there is no risk. Risk is always present and potentially high, but risk can be reduced significantly if strength training is done appropriately. For young age groups before puberty, this means doing light weights with more repetitions.

It also means strengthening sports-specific moves and actions to better equip the child in those positions. Overall flexibility should be emphasized as well because a little momentum for maintaining flexibility is needed before youngsters start to tighten up with the rapid growth of puberty.

Paul R. Stricker, MD, FAAP
Last Updated
Sports Success Rx! Your Child's Prescription for the Best Experience (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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