Children & Exercise
A controversial topic but one that needs discussing. On our podcast, we go into the full depth and essentially come to the conclusion that we implore parents to push their kids towards physical activity and remove this stigma surrounding activities such as weight training when we have so much evidence in support. Listen down below for full episode or continue dow for the written info
Where did this even come from? There is literally no evidence to support that exercise in children will inherently stunt growth. Especially in regards to resistance training where we have evidence suggesting the contrary. We think this is an old wives tale where parents don't like the look of their children lifting weight and it's spread and if enough people say something it becomes "fact".
Scientifically we believe this stems from damaging growth plates by participating in resistance training particularly lifting weight above head. The only way to damage the growth plate is by fracture you do not compress them by lifting a weight above your head! If lifting weights safely and under correct supervision, there should be minimal risk of fracture.
We actually have some papers that show some really great benefits to resistance training (RT)
Proper RT programs have a plethora of associated benefits including increased strength, lower rates of sports-related injury, increased bone strength index (BSI), decreased risk of fracture and improved self-esteem and interest in fitness
Myers AM, Beam NW, Fakhoury JD. Resistance training for children and adolescents. Transl Pediatr. 2017 Jul;6(3):137-143. doi: 10.21037/tp.2017.04.01. PMID: 28795003; PMCID: PMC5532191.
Some key information there "decreased risk of fracture" so those who are saying lifting weights will stunt growth are saying you are more likely to damage the growth plates but what we know is that RT actually reduces the chance of damage to these growth plates so, in turn, reduces the likelihood of growth stunting during childhood.
Important to note is that the growth plates are more susceptible to damage during the "younger" years however any sport/activity can cause this damage. If activities are done safely, progressively and under correct supervision, there should be minimal risk.
Injuries In General?
Are children more likely to get injured playing/training sports at a young age once again looking at resistance training? Some data that gets thrown around is one from 2006 that showed 22,956 8-19 yo were injured from partaking in sports/PT however this data provided no context to what caused this injuries so proved pretty useless.
Let's look at some more specific data relating to OVERUSE.
Overall estimates of overuse injuries versus acute injuries range from 45.9% to 54%. The prevalence of overuse injury varies by the specific sport, ranging from 37% (skiing and handball) to 68% (running). Overuse injuries are underestimated in the literature because most of the epidemiological studies define injury as requiring a time loss from participation.
DiFiori JP, Benjamin HJ, Brenner JS, et al
Overuse injuries and burnout in youth sports: a position statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine
British Journal of Sports Medicine 2014;48:287-288.
In general injury terms, we also have data to suggest that lifting weight is a lot lower in the risk of injury per 100 hours of participation compared to others.
Hamill, B.P.Relative safety of weightlifting and weight training. J. Strength and CondoRes. 8(1):53-57.1994.
If we look at weight training and weightlifting we are way below other sports. Even looking at other sports the figures are fairly low so no need to worry about injuries in general with children as long as done safely and under correct supervision.
What about mental injuries? We talk a lot about physical injuries but what about the impacts sports/exercise can have on a child/young persons mental health. This section is very much sport-specific.
Sports can be enjoyable and offer so many mental health benefits but when does it become a strain? Sports can be stressful especially if as a parent you are pressuring your child to the point of burnout. An example we made on the podcast was trying to have what you couldn't have such as being a pro football player? You could put your child through training session after training session and in some cases act with aggression in support but what effect is this having on the child? This of course applies to all sports.
Another example was we took things stateside and discussed sports scholarships. If you're only chance of affording a college education is through sports then that can place a lot of mental and physical strain on someone. As a young person, this mental stress could be overwhelming without the right support.
What I'm trying to say is that we must be careful not to neglect the mental stress/fatigue that can be placed on a young person to perform/excel in sports. Not every injury is a physical one.
Early Sports Specialisation
Keeping with sport-specific it's important to look at the data when it comes to early specialisation in sports at a young age. We established in the podcast that if you want to "breed champions" then you potentially need to start them young however early sports specialisation actually comes with an increased risk of injury. Multiple sources of data seem to suggest this. One piece of data that's worth noting
Context: Sport specialization is theorized to increase the risk of sustaining overuse musculoskeletal injuries.
Objective: To complete a systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature to determine if sport specialization is associated with overuse musculoskeletal injuries.
Data sources: An electronic search was conducted using the search terms "specialization," "year-round," "overuse," "repetitive stress," "injury," "young," "pediatric," and "sports."
Study selection: Studies were included if their population was ≤18 years of age, if they compared athletes with high or single-sport specialization with athletes with low or multisport specialization, and focused on overuse injuries.
Data extraction: Of the 12 articles that were identified for full-text review, 5 studies met all the inclusion criteria. Four studies provided adequate data for the meta-analysis. Quality scores on the modified Downs and Black scale ranged from 69% to 81%.
Results: Athletes with high specialization were at an increased risk of sustaining an overuse injury compared with athletes with low (pooled relative risk [RR] ratio: 1.81; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.26-2.60) and moderate (pooled RR: 1.18; 95% CI: 1.05-1.33) specialization. Athletes with moderate specialization were at a higher risk of injury compared with athletes with low specialization (RR: 1.39 [95% CI: 1.04-1.87]).
Limitations: Four of the 5 studies included in this systematic review were included in the meta-analysis because of the lack of access to the original data set for 1 article.
Conclusions: Sport specialization is associated with an increased risk of overuse musculoskeletal injuries (Strength of Recommendation Taxonomy grade: B).
Bell DR, Post EG, Biese K, Bay C, Valovich McLeod T. Sport Specialization and Risk of Overuse Injuries: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 2018 Sep;142(3):e20180657. doi: 10.1542/peds.2018-0657. Epub 2018 Aug 22. PMID: 30135085.
We took on the viewpoint of that if you specialise in a sport you are more than likely to overuse certain muscle groups which can, in turn, create overuse injuries. If you were to participate in multiple different sports there could potentially be a lower risk of overusing certain muscles. We go into more detail on the podcast on what we'd personally do as parents given what this data is suggesting.
Bone health is not only crucial at old age but in all stages of life. If we start trying to solve bone health in the later years it could perhaps be too late. So we need to take action to ensure that our children early on are working towards long-lasting bone health.
So how can we achieve this?
Exercise in youth can lead to a 0.6-1.7% increase in bone accrual. A key way to mitigating the effects of osteoporosis (a degenerative bone disease) is by having large amounts of bone mass already. By starting this bone accrual young we have the potential to seriously reduce the burden of osteoporosis at old age leading to a plethora of benefits not only individually but as a society.
One strategy to increase peak bone mass is regular, weight-bearing exercise. Weight-bearing exercise can include aerobics, circuit training, jogging, jumping, volleyball and other sports that generate impact to the skeleton. There is evidence to suggest that the years of childhood and adolescence represent an opportune period during which bone adapts particularly efficiently to such loading (Bass et al., 2000; Khan et al., 2000).
Burrows M. Exercise and bone mineral accrual in children and adolescents. J Sports Sci Med. 2007 Sep 1;6(3):305-12. PMID: 24149416; PMCID: PMC3787280.
We discuss in-depth social impacts on the podcast and it'll be hard to replicate the discussion in this format however here are some key points we explored
Something to do
Being part of a team and developing crucial team skills
Gateway to fitness. Lead to long term participation and in turn long term health benefits
Pressure from parents leading to 100% dedication to sports leading to a "lesser childhood"?
Socioeconomic factors. Something we often bring back to the podcast. Really important and worth mentioning once again.
Final Point. We implore you whether that's now as a parent/guardian or in the future to get your children moving and active and even incorporate some resistance training in as well. Let's remove the weightlifting stigma. The benefits are there to be had and for long term health for all our children physically and mentally it's important we take action and encourage.
If you've got any questions or queries about this article then please get in touch or leave a comment and we'll be happy to help. Let's create a better, healthier more active society. Together.