Q: Rabbi, first of all, I think what you’re doing is really cool. I don’t know that many rabbis who are into both fitness and Torah. So I’m in high school and I would like to do strength-training with weights, but my Mom tells me that she doesn’t allow me, because “it will stunt my growth.” Is this true? What can I tell my mother?

Emanuel I.

Forest Hills

 A: Hey, Emanuel, thanks for the kind words. I do appreciate it. It seems like you have two issues: kibud eim and clarifying the truth – two totally separate issues. Let’s try to address each one:

1) Kibud Eim: honoring your mother

Whether your mother is right or wrong, concerning you she’s always right ;) This means her wishes in this area play a significant part in how you should conduct yourself, albeit even if factually she’s mistaken. She should always be respected; even correcting a parent requires tact (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei’ah 240:11)

2) Clarifying the truth

I’ve heard this multiple times over the years from my students. It stems from either a rumor or a “bubbe-maaseh” (grandmothers’ tale), started many years ago, that has virtually no scientific basis, yet it persists from one generation to the next.

Enough is enough; let’s put this out there for all to see and explore.


Will my child stunt his or her growth
by lifting weights?

The answer to this question is “NO,” plain and simple. In the past, people thought that if a child lifted something heavy (barbells or dumbbells), the gravitational pressure would damage the soft growth plates on the end of their bones. The bones would then heal and fuse prematurely, leading to stunted growth. This simply isn’t true. I agree that children should avoid maximal lifts (powerlifting), for reasons we’ll see below, but avoiding all forms of strength training as a rule is just counterproductive.

The origins of weightlifting being a thing that stunted your growth came from a couple of places, most recently a 1970s study of Japanese child laborers. The children who did work all day ended up shorter than average. The truth behind the stunted growth is, of course, malnutrition. Child laborers worked long hours and didn’t make much money – not nearly enough to feed themselves well.

Another reason why people used to think weightlifting was bad for children was that they didn’t develop muscles like one does as an adult. Children don’t have enough hormones yet for muscles to develop properly, but what weightlifting can do for them is put stress on the bones, encouraging them to grow, as well as help them develop their central nervous system allowing pathways to be created for them to do more work as they go into adulthood. A lot of lifting weights is in the head.

You see, physiologically your muscles don’t know the differences between the resistance provided by strength training or the resistance provided by vigorous work or play. A muscle will contract and create force to counter any type of resistance. If the resistance is introduced safely, on a regular basis, and at the right intensity, the muscle will respond by getting stronger.

If this strength training myth were true, children all over the world would be suffering from this horrible condition. Kids who complete heavy chores on the family farm would be tiny. Kids who play explosive youth sports would just stop growing and we would have strict rules about running too fast, giving piggyback rides, and wheel barrel races. All of these activities require heavy muscular effort, but do not stunt growth. As a matter of fact, kids in elementary school can safely and effectively lift weights to promote health and build strength. The key thing for parents to understand is that a child must be mature enough to follow safe lifting guidelines, and dedicated enough to follow a well-designed regimented program.


Injuries from Weightlifting

A paper published in Austin Sports Medicine reviewed several studies about youth weightlifting. Researchers found that, instead of hurting young athletes, it improved their coordination and psychological well-being. The paper doesn’t ask if weight training should be implemented. Instead, it asks how. They point out that if a proper weightlifting program isn’t followed, it can lead to injuries.

A paper from the Annals of Kinesiology in 2016 showed that there is a slight risk of injury in younger athletes who lift weights. While generally safe, weightlifting requires discipline and focus. It’s possible that children and young adults don’t have the focus required to properly execute weightlifting movements.

Coordination isn’t fully developed at a young age, which is another risk factor for injury. Children and young adults simply don’t have as much body awareness as an adult. That makes some complex weightlifting movements dangerous.

In other words, the age at which a child can begin strength training is determined more by the child’s psychological maturity versus his or her chronological age. Supervision and guidance are also very important factors as the child learns this new skill.

Outcome:

Look at the preponderance of evidence that strength training is beneficial even at a young age vs. the lack of evidence suggesting a correlation between stunted growth and weightlifting.

Growth Question:

How can I introduce this to someone who has an “emotional” attachment or long-held belief to this opinion such as a parent/grandparent without being rude or belittling?


Action Steps:

Think of how I can get a great workout without going to a gym and using weights (if your mom is still strict), by learning to utilize your body’s natural resistance.

Check out my “Rabbi Fitness” YouTube channel and follow me on Instagram for workout ideas and overall motivation to be your best!!

Good luck, Emanuel!

Disclaimer:

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only. Rabbi Fitness LLC is not a doctor. The contents of this article should not be taken as medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any health problem – nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician. Always consult your physician or qualified health professional on any matters regarding your health and/or engagement in physical activity, especially if you (or your family) have a history of high blood pressure, heart disease, or if you have ever experienced chest pain when exercising or have experienced chest pain in the past month when not engaged in physical activity, smoke, have high cholesterol, are obese, or have a bone or joint problem that could be made worse by a change in physical activity.


DISCLAIMER

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only. Rabbi Fitness LLC is not a doctor. The contents of this article should not be taken as medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any health problem – nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician. Always consult your physician or qualified health professional on any matters regarding your health and/or engagement in physical activity, especially if you (or your family) have a history of high blood pressure, heart disease, or if you have ever experienced chest pain when exercising or have experienced chest pain in the past month when not engaged in physical activity, smoke, have high cholesterol, are obese, or have a bone or joint problem that could be made worse by a change in physical activity.


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