Last updated on November 16th, 2022 at 11:30 am
I was actually surprised to discover just how many people want to know whether bench press can stunt your growth.
However, it appears that many youngsters, and indeed parents, are worried about the impact lifting weights may have on height.
I guess there has been a long-held belief that children shouldn’t lift weights, as it’s likely to affect their bones prior to full maturity.
But, is this actually fact or nothing more than a myth?
Allow me to reveal all.
Table of Contents
Can Bench Press Stunt Your Growth?
No, bench press cannot stunt your growth. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest that weightlifting will either fuse or damage the growth plates in a child’s bones. However, it is recommended that no child should try to bench press near their max weight. It’s not until a minor has hit full puberty that they can start to think of lifting heavier weights and practicing regular progressive overload.
1. Science, Bones, & Weightlifting
Let’s set the facts straight – the idea that weightlifting can stunt a child’s growth is nothing more than a myth.
However, it’s a myth that most of us have probably believed at one time or another.
With that being said, there is not one shred of scientific evidence to prove this theory.
Something that you’ll hear quite often is that bench pressing or lifting any type of weight will stop the bones from growing prior to them maturing.
In fact, I’ve often heard it said that lifting weights will fuse the growth plates together in a child’s bones.
But, as I say, there is no evidence to prove this.
I’ve also heard people say that as the bones are not yet fully mature that they are more likely to fracture the growth plates, once more inhibiting growth.
And yet, there is still no scientific evidence to back this up.
The American College of Sports Medicine has stated that no growth plate fracture has ever been reported in a research study.
Plus, this is not something that any child would experience if they lifted weights conscientiously and safely.
So, it’s perfectly safe to bench press without having to worry about stunted growth.
With that being said, there are a few “rules” that you should adhere to if you’re bench pressing and weightlifting as a minor, and I’ll cover those in more detail now.
2. Don’t Bench Press Near Your Max
Okay, so you’re aware that bench pressing will not stunt your growth, but that doesn’t mean that you can immediately hit the weights hard.
In fact, although there is nothing wrong with a child lifting weights, it’s better to work on technique in these early stages.
In other words, I don’t think it’s a good idea to be lifting heavy weights.
So, there should definitely be no one-rep max attempts at bench press, or any other exercise for that matter.
Personally, I feel that a child should stick to an absolute maximum of around 70% one-rep max weight.
However, as I’ve mentioned, it’s more important to learn proper technique, as opposed to the actual weight on the bar.
When it comes to the bench press it isn’t simply a case of lying on the bench and then pumping away.
There are various technique cues when it comes to bench pressing.
These include hand positioning, not allowing the elbows to flare out, where the barbell should come down to, how far up should you press, etc.
By spending your early years learning good technique you’ll set yourself up for a fantastic weightlifting future.
Plus, when it finally comes to the right time to start adding serious weight to the bar you’ll progress much faster with a sound technique.
Furthermore, even though I’ve mentioned that it’s extremely rare for growth plate fractures, they can still occur.
Once again, this won’t cause any issues with growth and achieving your full height potential.
However, no-one wants to suffer an injury, regardless of age, whether lifting weights or doing any other activity.
So, for me, it makes more sense to keep the weights very light in the early years, and to get your form absolutely on-point.
Learning to Bench Press
3. Tanner Stage 4 Progressive Overload
The time to start lifting heavier weights is when a child has reached what is known as Tanner Stage 4.
This is simply the medical term for someone who has hit maturity in terms of puberty.
So, as a girl this means that you have full pubic hair, your breasts will take on a fuller shape, and you have started having periods.
For a boy this will mean that you have pubic hair, your penis and scrotum have got bigger, and your voice has become deeper.
Realistically, this can occur at any time between the ages of 11-17.
However, more often than not, a girl will be aged between 12-14 and a boy will be aged around 14-15.
It is once an adolescent has achieved this stage of puberty that they can start to bench press, and lifting weights in general, in a more conventional manner.
This will mean that you can start to lift much heavier weights, nearer to your one-rep max.
You can also start to practice progressive overload at this stage.
So, this means that you can regularly add weight to your bench press.
Therefore, if you’re training 10 reps for 3 sets and you achieve all 10 reps of each set with perfect form, you’re then ready to add weight the next time you bench press.
This may involve adding no more than 2.5lbs to the bar and aiming for 3 sets of 10 reps once more.
Then again, you may wish to add slightly more weight, say 5-10lbs, and then aim for 3 sets of 8 reps.
Basically, it is at this stage of puberty that you can train more seriously with the bench press and other weightlifting exercises.
4. Is Bench Pressing Dangerous For a Minor?
As a parent, if stunted growth isn’t an issue with lifting weights then the risk of injury certainly is.
I guess many parents view weightlifting as very dangerous, especially for a minor.
In fact, there are worries about injuring your back, tearing tendons and ligaments, pulling a muscle, etc.
And when it comes to the bench press I’m sure many parents would be absolutely horrified to see a loaded barbell directly over their child.
However, in truth, lifting weights is far less dangerous than many of the other activities that you probably take for granted.
In fact, the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research conducted a study in 1994 on school-aged children.
It was found that curricular activities, such as football (soccer) and rugby were far more dangerous than lifting weights.
Furthermore, activities defined as winter sports and summer sports (a cross-section of different sports played at schools, e.g. athletics, tennis, badminton, etc.) were deemed to be more dangerous as well.
The point being that it is possible to suffer a serious injury when taking part in any sport.
And yet no-one seems to worry that a ball is hitting a child’s head numerous times during a football (soccer) game.
It’s seen as graceful to watch a child perform a gymnastic’s routine, which in itself requires a huge amount of strength and working muscle.
Basically, most sporting activities are viewed as a natural part of growing up, but they can all be dangerous.
And yet, lifting weights is seen as being much worse.
However, when it comes to lifting weights, as long as this is done in a safe and thoughtful manner, there is a very low risk of injury.
So, I hope you understand that bench pressing will not stunt growth, and neither will any other weightlifting activity.
With that being said, if a child wishes to bench press and lift weights in general then it’s best to keep the weights very light and concentrate on technique.
It’s only once an adolescent has hit full puberty that you can consider benching and lifting more seriously.
This means that they can follow a specific workout program and look to progressively overload weight on a regular basis.
Bench pressing and lifting weights is actually far less dangerous than many other activities that children regularly partake in.
Next, sticking to the same subject, and perhaps something that many of you have wondered, learn more about whether you can bench press effectively on a bed.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.