The growing years may be the most opportune time in life for exercise to result in large increases in bone density, enough to reduce the risk of fracture late in life. However, it is not known if there is an 'optimal' time during growth when the skeleton is most responsive to exercise. Comparing the osteotrophic response to exercise between pre- and peripubertal children is complex because: (i) the development of the skeleton within each stage of puberty is characterised by differing temporal patterns of growth in bone size and mass; (ii) the hormonal regulation of the skeleton is unique to each stage of puberty; and (iii) it is difficult to equate the relative mechanical load placed on the prepubertal compared with the pubertal skeleton. There are sound biological bases for the hypotheses being proposed for both the pre- and peripubertal years being the time when the skeleton is most responsive to exercise; that is, exercise may enhance bone formation in a synergistic fashion in the presence of growth hormone (prepubertal years) or sex steroids (peripubertal years). The paucity of data and the complex methodology make it difficult to draw conclusions as to the most opportune time during growth when exercise may lead to the greatest osteotrophic response. The limited data available support the notion that the prepubertal years may be the most opportune time, due to increases in bone density and periosteal expansion of cortical bone.