Will lifting weights stunt your growth? At what age should you start lifting weights?
Let me put an end to this lingering myth once and for all...
Proper strength training does not stunt growth! In fact, you can actually begin a safe, age appropriate training program as young at 8 or 9 years old.
For all of the 13 and 14 year olds who email me or hit me up on Twitter or Facebook asking when they should start strength training... my answer is... today!
The most important concept to understand is that a child's chronological age and their physical and mental maturity are not always congruent. This includes their muscular and Central Nervous System maturity (coordination, body awareness, etc.) as well as their mental maturity (attention span, ability to process and follow instructions, etc.). Children mature and progress at different rates. Some 10-year olds look and act 16 and some 16-year olds look and act 10! Therefore, individualized modifications should be made for any outlier and you should get approval from a qualified professional prior to implementing a training program.
However, as a general rule of thumb, young players (ages 8-12) can and should participate in a structured, supervised, age-appropriate training program.
There is a difference between "lifting weights" and "strength training." I strongly prefer to use the term strength training as it encompasses a variety of modalities and methodologies. You can improve strength without weights. When I say a young player should learn how to squat correctly, I am referring to the functional movement (not implying you load their spine with a barbell!). My goal is not to produce better "weight lifters", but rather to use appropriate training methods to produce stronger, more coordinated, and more confident players. A truly comprehensive program utilizes more than just weights. In fact, some of the most intense and difficult strength workouts we have our players do don't even use weights!
An age-appropriate strength training program will not harm a child's growth, but will actually help strengthen their skeletal and muscular system as well as their connective tissue. It will also help facilitate an improvement in their coordination and body awareness.
A proper youth training program should involve dynamic flexibility, movement preparation, footwork, strength training, and agility drills. The program should be done two times per week, for 30-45 minutes per workout, and focus on multi-joint movements such as skipping, hopping, jumping, lunging, squatting, pushing, pulling, throwing, and twisting. The workouts should be challenging, yet fun and engaging with the goal of building great training habits and a solid foundation of efficient movement.
It is important for younger players to regularly experience a variety of motor skills in order to promote future athletic success and injury prevention. Developing this basic coordination through a wide variety of movements, drills, and exercises is integral... with the eventual goal of developing basketball specific coordination in their teenage years. In other words, children need to learn how to run and jump properly, how to control their body in space and how to move efficiently before they learn how to dribble, shoot, and pass. They need to do this for the same reason they need to learn addition and subtraction before they learn algebra and geometry... one builds on the other.
Research has shown that coordination is best developed between the ages of 10 to 12 years old. There are several components to coordination, such as balance, rhythm, body awareness in space, and reaction. Younger players that master these components, and improve their coordination through appropriate training, tend to have better athletic success at later ages. Of course, one's absolute athletic potential is somewhat pre-determined based on genetic predispositions. However, regardless of their absolute athletic potential, every young player can make progress. This is why introducing a proper youth training program is so important!
For the record, I am not saying that children under the age of 10 to 12 shouldn't be playing basketball or learning basketball skills... they should. But they should also be learning how to master their general motor skills (particularly running and jumping).
Here are four guidelines to a quality youth training program:
- Safe: young players must use proper form and appropriate resistances (if applicable).
- Fun: young players should be engaged and enjoy training!
- Fundamental: young players should master a variety of general motor skills (skipping, hopping, jumping, lunging, squatting, pushing, pulling, throwing, and twisting) before trying to master sport-specific skills (ball handling, shooting, etc.).
- Challenging: young players learn quickly, so challenge them physically and mentally with a variety of new movements, exercises, and drills.
I wrote this because I am passionate about this message (not to push a product). However, I have created an 8-Week Youth Training Program download for any parent or coach who needs it: 8-Week Training Program for Youth Basketball Players.