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Is it safe for kids to lift weights?

Is it safe for children and adolescents to lift weights? Or does pumping iron at a young age risk stunting their growth?
BY STEPHEN PRESCOTT AND ADAM COHEN Published: October 22, 2013

Adam's Journal

My son Will just finished his first season as a high school cross country runner, and he plans to run track this spring. As part of the team's offseason conditioning, the kids do a fair amount of strength and conditioning training.

You wouldn't guess it to look at me now, but when I was in my early teens, I spent a lot of time in the weight room. When I finished growing, I stood — and still stand — at 5 feet, 8 inches. On a good day.

My dad and brother are both a couple of inches taller than I am, and I've always wondered whether weightlifting had something to do with it. So is it safe for my 14-year-old son and his teammates to lift weights? Or does pumping iron at a young age risk stunting their growth?

Dr. Prescott Prescribes

The idea that weight training interferes with growth has a firm hold in the popular psyche. I can't say where this notion began, but it certainly took off in the wake of a study in the 1970s where Japanese researchers discovered that child laborers tended to be abnormally short. The researchers concluded that physical labor, which typically entailed many hours of lifting and moving heavy weights, had interfered with the children's growth.

Today, many parents — and some pediatricians — believe that children and young adolescents should not engage in weight training. The thinking goes that lifting weights can damage the epiphyseal (or so-called growth) plates, which is cartilage located at the end of long bones. Some also believe that weight training in young males is ineffectual due to a lack of testosterone.

In a comprehensive review published a few years ago in the journal Pediatrics, scientists reviewed 60 years of studies of children and weightlifting. That study effectively punctured each of these myths.

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