Is there any literature on gymnastics and stunted growth? How about weight bearing activities for youth?
Thank you for your question. I wish I could give you a straight answer. The correlation between gymnasts and stunted growth has been studied for quite some time. At this time, the only conclusive evidence is that during intense gymnastic training, athletes must consume enough high quality, nutritious calories, or they can damage their bodies for the rest of their lives. It seems that girls are the ones who have the worst problems. The competitive female gymnast is shorter in stature and has a delayed onset of menstruation, probably due to gymnastics. Research has found that the greater the number of years of gymnastic training, the greater the reduction in growth. Researchers also found that gymnasts tended to have more problems with their spinal growth, compared with elongation of the bones in the arms and legs. In follow up studies on retired gymnasts and gymnasts that were not in intense training, they were able to catch up most of what was delayed during the time of their training.
When it comes to weight training for youths, most of the governing bodies in training think it is acceptable to some degree. The ACSM and NSCA both have issued statements believing that it is safe. The ACSM has put forth some guidelines they think should be followed for children who do weight lifting. In a nutshell, they believe pre-pubescent children should only use weights they can complete a minimum of eight times. They also feel children should focus on doing the exercises in perfect form and in a slow and controlled manner. Activities like power lifting or bodybuilding are not beneficial for young children because they are centered on competition and entice children to use heavy weights.
As Director of Education for the National College of Exercise Professionals, we suggest young children stay away from weights altogether. In fact, I suggest most people, especially children, get all they can out of the classic body weight exercises such as push ups, pull ups, lunges and body weight squats and playing all kinds of sports before they decide to start any type of heavy weight training. If you want to start your child on any weight training routine, we suggest a truly functional approach using something like Indian clubs, clubbells or kettlebells where they have to support their own bodies and are in a ground-based environment. This type of training will give children the greatest carry over to sports and ensure they will only be as strong as their core.
- “Short Stature and Delayed Puberty in Gymnasts: Influence of Selection Bias on Leg Length and the Duration of Training on Trunk Length”, Journal of Pediatrics, Volume 136, pp. 149-155, 2000
- CLINICAL JOURNAL OF SPORT MEDICINE 2001;11:260-270
- Strength Training: OK for kids if done correctly, MayoClinic.com, Jan 2006.