Prepubertal Training and Growth

Hard exercise before puberty does not interfere with growth, according to studies in the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (Med Sci Sports and Ex, October, 2000). There is no data to show that hard exercise damages growth centers in bones, and there is no evidence that growing larger muscles stunts growth or interferes with coordination. One study in the same journal showed that just four weeks of hard exercise in growing animals increases bone mass. That suggests that children who start training while they are still growing will have an advantage over athletes who start training after puberty.

In most sports, the strongest athlete wins. Weightlifter Naim Suleymanoglu of Turkey, who won three Olympic gold medals and is probably the greatest weightlifter ever, started lifting weights when he was eight years old. Muscles can only grow to be as strong as the strength of the bones on which they attach, so people with the biggest bones are the ones who can grow the biggest muscles.

As far as their bodies are concerned, young children can start training at a very young age for athletic competition, but as far as their minds are concerned, they should not train before they are ready to accept the regimented lifestyle required for athletic competition.

There is great concern that some children will be subjected to abusive coaches and inconsiderate parents who place athletic training above the child's own wishes and desires. In one study from Southern California, 90 percent of female cross country runners under age nine stopped running before they reached high school. The concern about serious athletic training for young children is more mental than physical. Children should not begin serious athletic training unless they want to do it, that they take days off from training regularly and when they want to, and that their coaches and parents allow them to be children. People who start lifting weights when they are young will have bigger bones and therefore the capability to grow the largest muscles, but they should be supervised and not lift weights that are heavier than they can lift 10 times in a row.

Checked 5/21/11

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