Growth Spurts

Most junior runners will already have experienced a growth spurt and possibly the consequences of training when the joints ache. Minor growth spurts start between 5 and 7 for girls and 6 to 8 for boys. Thankfully at this age little training or running is done. But by the major or pre-pubertal growth spurt, which starts - on average in girls of 9 or 10 and 12 to 13 for boys, these juniors can already be involved in running several times a week. The problem with growth spurts is anticipating their arrival, as they can vary from one junior to another. This growth period usually stops on average in girls around the age of eighteen but can go on to twenty-two in the boys. The growth rate peak on average is around 12 for girls with the boy’s two years later at 14.

This not only creates a problem for the young athlete but also one for the parent or coach. In the first place the normal aches and pains from training and racing have to be identified separately from those of a growth spurt. It pays to keep a record of the youngster’s height by taking it regularly - about once a month - and putting a little sticker with the measurement and date on when there is growth - I find a door frame a handy spot. This information of early growth is essential if you are to avoid problems.

Its important to know that growing bone is softer than mature bone but has less bending strength. That is, it will tend to bend or distort under pressure but will not readily return to its previous shape. Growing bone is more likely to react adversely to excessive stress in training. Either high quality training or high quantity training can cause such stress. The major problem lies in the fact that under severe stress it is possible that the growth plate (Epiphysis) will cease to be active and growth will cease irrevocably. This does not mean that training has to be avoided, but that care is taken when you are aware of a growth spurt and curtail the training load accordingly. This is the time to switch the emphasis of training onto a bike. If the youngster complains of aching - especially in the knees and also of feeling lethargic and tired, these are the classic symptoms of a growth spurt. One of the most obvious signs of rapid growth is that the youngster can become less co-ordinated and appear clumsy.

This is the time to have patience and understanding and spend a little more time with the skill element of training, in trying to regain good control and co-ordination. Pedalling on a mountain bike on the hills, or for those juniors fortunate enough to have the use of a turbo attachment for indoor cycling, the benefits are great, and every opportunity should be taken to cross train when the growth spurts are around. It is also important to build the muscles that have lagged behind the bone growth and good circuit work using body weight is ideal. It is wise to avoid any downhill running or limb jarring sports such as netball and basketball if in a growth spurt, even football is not wise if the joints are aching. Good cushioned trainers can help tremendously at this time.

All juniors should immediately tell their parents or coach if they have persistent pains or dull aches around their joints, especially the knees, and not wait until it appears that trousers or skirts have shrunk in the wash!

Norman Matthews
England Junior Coach