Written by Joey Argento
I’m sure we have all been told, or even said ourselves, that weightlifting can stunt our growth. Specifically, for most teens who want to start their fitness journey, this is an extremely common concern. Whether the concern may be their very own or, quite often, the concern of their parents it should not exist at all! Contrary to common belief, the fact is that weightlifting, with proper form and technique, does not hinder your linear growth in any way but rather encourages it.
Now we must remember that genetics play an extremely important role in determining your actual height, therefore weightlifting cannot work magic and change your genetic make up. Although what it can do, is help you too maximize your full genetic potential and reach your biological heights (literally!).
Besides genetics there are three major factors that can have great influence on our linear growth. These three things would be health of our growth plates, the production of certain hormones, as well as proper nutrition. Fortunately, these three aspects can be achieved through weightlifting and the lifestyle that comes with it.
Many people claim that lifting weights, especially overhead, can cause physical damage, which in turn can hinder your growth, although this argument has no scientific basis, as epiphyseal plates are actually the physical components that contribute to linear growth. Epiphyseal plates, more commonly known as growth plates, are a mechanism that permits our bones to grow. According to the fourth lesson on personal.psu.edu bones cannot grow at the ends, as they must able to fit and move smoothly within joints and adding tissue directly to the end of the bones would prohibit this. Therefore our bodies add tissue somewhere along the length of the bone, and thus we call the area where this occurs a growth plate.
As helpful as growth plates are, they can actually be our worst enemy if they are severely fractured. A severe growth plate fracture can lead to a hindering of linear growth as well as an unequal growth size of limbs. Fortunately, there is virtually no risk of fracturing these important plates when weightlifting with proper form. Weightlifting is general is non-contact and if performed properly stays within our natural range of motion. Therefore, our growth plates are never under stress and have extremely low chances of injury.
According to USA Weightlifting, teenage weightlifters have an injury rate of 0.0035%, one of the lowest for any sport. This leads me to my next point: it is strange that most parents are against weight training but sign their children up to contact sports such as, hockey, football and soccer. All of these three sports much higher injury risks than weightlifting, and because of the high-impact contact, greater risk of growth plate injury.
Furthermore, besides not putting much, if not any, stress on your growth plates, weightlifting can actually help with posture and skeletal health. An increase in muscle mass can lead to bones having to increase in size and density in order to support the additional weight, thus leading to an overall increase in bone size and a decrease in the risk of osteoporosis!
Another important aspect when discussing growth is obviously maintaining a healthy diet, which includes the right macronutrients and micronutrients. According to many new studies conducted internationally, protein deficiency can cause a stunt in linear growth whereas diets high in animal and vegetable based proteins actually have growth-promoting effects. In addition, micronutrients such as zinc also have very similar growth-encouraging properties. As we are all aware, the average North-American teen does not necessarily follow a diet of that sort (and yes that might be an understatement). Yet, many teens who weightlift are more conscious of their physical appearance and therefore care more about their diet, as it can benefit not only their health and linear growth but also muscular gains.
This is also something that is apparent in almost any gym or high school that you walk into. Many teenagers complain that they find it extremely difficult to increase their muscle mass, and this is for the sole reason that they do not put much emphasis on their diet, as even someone with an extremely fast metabolism or genetics that are not ideal, can gain mass if they find a diet plan that works for them.
So, if we discourage people from weightlifting they might never find a reason to keep their diet in check or focus on maintaining the proper macronutrient and micronutrient goals. Thus leading to the inability to reach their full genetic potential and a hindering in growth (as well as increase in obesity, diabetes etc…).
The final aspect to take into consideration when speaking about linear growth is the effect of hormones. Although there are many hormones that can be taken into account, only the two most important will be covered. The two hormones being covered are Growth Hormone (GH) and Testosterone.
You may be wondering what Growth Hormone actually does. As you could guess by the name, GH is produced in the pituitary gland and stimulates growth within children and adolescents. Once you get into your thirties, GH production rapidly slows down within your body. The majority of its production occurs during our sleep; therefore a good night’s rest is key. Yet, the best way to stimulate production is through exercise, such as weigh training. According to an article published in 2013 by Dr. Mercola, weightlifting, when done at a high intensity, stimulates the production of GH in our bodies. In the same article he states that it actually increases production by 771% during exercise. Therefore, teens can actually maximize their linear growth if they weightlift at a high intensity, such as a hypertrophy workout with low rest.
Testosterone also plays a crucial role in linear and muscular growth. Testosterone not only promotes growth of muscle tissue, but also plays a role in keeping our friend, GH, at peak levels and is therefore a double-edged sword. Furthermore, it also aids in burning fat and gaining lean muscle, resulting in bigger muscles and stronger bones. The best way to increase testosterone production, according to Dr. Mercola, is to maintain a lean body and perform strength or hypertrophy training. Therefore as you can tell, Testosterone and GH go hand in hand, creating a fat burning, muscle building and linear growth development tag team!
Weightlifting does not stunt your growth but, on the contrary, actually encourages it. Our bones are not at risk and can actually get stronger, it encourages proper nutrition that leads to maximizing our genetic potential and also encourages hormones that have a multitude of benefits. I have personally been training since I was 15 and am still over 6 feet tall. This is not uncommon either; most Olympic lifters are at least average height for men of their age and weight, if not taller. I encourage everyone who has read this to go look for themselves.
Remember, that the next time someone tells you that you are stunting your growth by weight training, refer back to this article and inform them about the truth behind the myth. Train hard, push your limits and reach your biological heights!