The sport of weightlifting is safe for children and beneficial for their health and performance. The injury rates for youth weightlifting are very low (Lloyd et al., 2012; Faigenbaum & McFarland, 2008). Interestingly, the injury rates for weightlifting are lower than injury rates from other forms of resistance training (Lloyd et al., 2014). Further, there is no scientific information that Olympic weightlifting is more dangerous than other youth sports, in fact it is markedly safer than soccer and rugby (Faigenbaum & McFarland, 2008). A study comparing the results between the first and most recent competition of 11 youth weightlifters over a 23-month period by Byrd et al., (2003) found significant improvements in performance. After a total of 534 competition lifts along with 23 months of training, they had with no injuries that required medical attention, or training to be missed. The risk factors for injuries in youth weightlifting are excessive load and volume, short rest periods, and unsafe environment (Lloyd et al., 2012; Stone et al., 1994). These risk factors are decreased when training is supervised by a qualified professional and appropriate technique and loads are used (Faigenbaum & McFarland, 2008). It is commonly believed that weightlifting will damage the growth plates. In fact, youth weightlifting does not injury the growth plates or reduce growth potential (Lloyd et al., 2012; Woods, 2019). Actually, weightlifting strengthen the connective tissue and bones, making them more resistant to impacts and ground reaction forces (Lloyd et al., 2012). This is highlighted by the fact that youth weightlifters have greater bone mineral density than their non-weightlifting peers (Faigenbaum et al., 2016). Not only does weightlifting strengthens the connective tissue and bones it provides other health and performance benefits. The health benefits for youth from weightlifting include decreased risk of injury, improved body composition and cardiorespiratory variables, and improved sence of well-being and psychological health (Lloyd et al., 2014; Woods, 2019). The performance benefits include improve strength, power, muscular endurance, agility, balance, stability, coordination, flexibility, and speed of movement (Granacher et al., 2016; Faigenbaum et al., 2016; Lloyd et al., 2014; Woods, 2019). Children who strength train have greater improvements in throwing, jumping and running performance (Faigenbaum et al., 2016). Therefore, to maximize the health and performance attributes of children, they should participate in a strength training program.
Many recommendations for youth athletes in a strength training program are offered. They should always be supervised by a qualified professional, be taught proper technique, and be shown how to safely miss. They should also be given appropriately sized equipment (Lloyd et al., 2014). There is no minimum age to start weight training. The recommended age to start is the age at which athletes can comply with coaching instructions (Lesinski et al., 2016). The program should begin by developing fundamental movement patterns such as squatting, lunging and pulling movements (Lloyd et al., 2014). These fundamental movements also lead to greater strength improvements compared to machine resistance training because of the additional trunk stabilization required and the greater freedom of movement in multi-planar movements (Granacher et al., 2016). At the beginning of a training program the intensity should be determined by technical competency of the athlete and not by a percent of 1RM (Lloyd et al., 2014; Faigenbaum et al., 2016). Once these patterns are developed they can progress to more complex movements and greater rates of force development, such as weightlifting movements and plyometrics (Lloyd et al., 2014). Also, once competency is developed, intensities between 60-80% of 1RM and reps between 6-12 can be used (Lloyd et al., 2014; Faigenbaum et al., 2016). As training age and technical competency increase further reps of 6 and under and intensities at or above 85% can be periodically used (Lloyd et al., 2014; Faigenbaum et al., 2016). For athletes who are technically competent, heavy resistance training is best for improving strength in youth athletes (Granacher et al., 2016). It is recommended that intensites are between 80-89%, reps 6-8, 5 sets per exercise, rest 3-4 min between sets, and the training program should last more than 23 weeks (Lesinski et al., 2016; Granacher et al., 2016). The potential adaptive changes from resistance training are greater for kids under 13 years old (Granacher et al., 2016). This can be explained by the greater neural plasticity in children as compared to adolescents which leads to greater relative gains in strength (Granacher et al., 2016). The neuromuscular plasticity during childhood creates a unique opportunity for strength development that can help one reach their potential in adulthood (Faigenbaum et al., 2016). Strength training methods that are neural focused such as weightlifting movements and plyometrics are the most effective methods for athletes in the pre-puberty stage of development (Meyers et al., 2017). The combined use of weight training and plyometrics in the same session produced greater effects than plyometrics training performed alone (Granacher et al., 2016). A study compared training programs for children that either containing Olympic weightlifting, plyometric or traditional resistance training by Chaouachi et al., (2014) found that Olympic weightlifting exercises were superior to the other methods in terms of performance enhancement. But they concluded that all were important components of a well-rounded youth training program (Chaouachi et al., 2014). Therefore, for optimal power development in youth athletes, the combined use of weightlifting, plyometrics, and traditional resistance training (squats, deadlifts, and lunges) is recommended (Lesinski et al., 2016; Granacher et al., 2016; Chaouachi et al., 2014). Also, the technical nature of the weightlifting movements makes the learning of the movements in the heightened period of neural development very beneficial for optimal technique development (Lloyd et al., 2012).
In conclusion, weightlifting is not only safe for children but it can also help them be healthier, more resistant to injuries, and more capable of reaching their performance potential in adulthood.
Byrd, R., Pierce, K., Rielly, L., & Brady, J. (2003). Strength and Conditioning (Michael Stone Sub‐editor: Young weightlifters’ performance across time. Sports Biomechanics, 2(1), 133-140.
Chaouachi, A., Hammami, R., Kaabi, S., Chamari, K., Drinkwater, E. J., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Olympic weightlifting and plyometric training with children provides similar or greater performance improvements than traditional resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(6), 1483-1496.
Dodd, K. D., & Newans, T. J. (2017). Olympic Lifting and Plyometrics in Youth Athletes. Journal of Australian Strength & Conditioning, 25(7), 85–90.
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