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Youth Weightlifting... Is It Safe?



The inspiration behind today's post is from an article written by Dr. Aaron Horschig PT, DPT, CSCS, and can be found in full here.
 
The topic of youth weight training is controversial. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the opposing viewpoints as a parent.
 
We often hear of the perils of barbell training for young children (stunted growth plates, fractured bones, decreased athletic potential, etc.). On the flip sides, many say youth barbell training prevents injury and is beneficial as long as proper technique is the focus.
 
But what are the facts?
 
 
"When you look at the statistics, there is actually a very low risk of injury to children who participate in weight training. This is often attributed to good coaching and qualified supervision. It may surprise you that the injury rates for young athletes participating in the sports of weightlifting and powerlifting are considerably lower than those of rugby, soccer and football (1,3).
 
The force an athlete sustains when performing a maximal strength test (such as a 1 RM squat) is actually less than what they would be exposed to on a daily basis in most other sports (1).
 
Many injuries sustained by children while weight training come down to one factor: poor adult supervision. When unsupervised the chances of a young athlete attempting to lift with poor technique or with too much weight dramatically rises. It also increases the chances of ‘horseplay’ in the weight room. For this reason, the most common injury to children in the weight room is actually dropping weights on their own hands and feet (7)."
I find that last statement to be quite true. In my experience the only serious injury I have witnessed in my years of coaching youth athletes is from dropping plates. Having learned from it, I am confident with proper supervision, that risk is next to 0%.
 

 
Another common concern is that of growth plate injuries in developing athletes. But there is little to no research suggesting that barbell training (under proper supervision and coaching) causes growth plate damage.
 
 
"One of the most common concerns associated with children lifting weights is the potential for injury to the growth plates of their bones. At a young age the bones are still growing and are vulnerable to injury. Maturing bones can be 2-5 times weaker than the surrounding tissues (8). For this reason, a traumatic force that causes a ligamentous injury to an adult will often cause a fracture at the growth plate in a child.
Barbell training, however, is not one of the leading causes of growth plate injuries to children. The leading causes include American football, followed closely by baseball, gymnastics and hockey (9). In fact, not a single study has reported an injury to the growth plate of a child when proper supervision and technique instruction are provided (1).
 
Many are also still under the impression that lifting weights at a young age will stunt a child’s growth. However, there has never been any scientific evidence that youth weight training is harmful to the normal growth and development process (11). Your child can in fact perform barbell squats without fear of stunted growth!" 
Now that we have dispelled some common myths about youth barbell training, let's take some time to talk about all the positive benefits that come from it.
 
 
Having a strong base in proper functional movement with a focus on PERFECT TECHNIQUE sets the child up for a lifetime of health and fitness. Most children will be exposed to weightlifting in some form during high school (whether that's through team sports or PE class).
 
Unfortunately, the level of barbell coaching is sub-par in many of these programs. While the coaches are knowledgable in the sport itself, oftentimes they view strength and conditioning as a add-on with little focus on technique and progression.
 
Because of this, having a strong base in movement quality under an experienced coach is that much more important to ward of injury down the road. At Trebel, we believe in a progression based approach to training (especially youth training).
 
 
"There are many benefits associated with weight training at a young age including the promotion of normal bone formation and growth. In fact youth weightlifters commonly display higher than average bone density than other athletes (12).
Weight training can help young athletes develop strength. In 2007 researchers followed middle school students during an after school weight-training program. After 9 weeks of training the barbell squat (along with other traditional lifts) considerable improvements in strength were shown without any report of injury (13).
 
In 2001 another group of researchers followed 30 young boys (ages 9-10) as they participated in a structured weight lifting program at their school. In this study, the entire first month was solely dedicated to teaching proper technique. Many of the children were restricted to only using a broomstick at first! (5). After two years the researchers compared their results to children of the same age that participated only in gym class. Those in the weight-training program were able to gain significant strength compared to the control group (gym class only) without any reports of serious injury. (5)
Lifting weights at a young age may even help reduce injury occurrence in other sports (14). Youth athletes who lift weights are less likely to sustain an injury in their chosen sport. These athletes also recover from injuries faster when compared to teammates who don’t lift weights (15).
 
 
 

Group Class Programming for Monday, June 5th, 2017: