No Kids Allowed: How Fitness Centers are Contributing to the Obesity Epidemic

Youth Weightlifting Youth Obesity - Pic 1

I love to workout. I love to travel. And when I travel, I love to workout. On vacation, some people visit museums, historic buildings, or beautiful cathedrals. I visit gyms. Each gym offers a new perspective on fitness. Some gyms reveal creative ways of organizing equipment; some introduce me to new equipment; and some have enthusiastic instructors with unique training methods. I love learning from others who are passionate about fitness!

However, more often than not, I encounter facilities with a “No Kids” policy. This is especially frustrating when I am trying to find a place to train with my 13-year old son. I hate having to beg, plead and lie just so my son can access a squat rack. (By the way, the lying approach never works because my son is closer in size to an 11-year old than a 16-year old.)

My frustration is especially concerning when you consider the following facts:

* Only one in three children are physically active every day.
* Children now spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen (e.g., TV, videogames, computer).
* Only 6 states (Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York and Vermont) require physical education in every grade, K-12
* 20.5% of children ages 12 to 19 are obese
* Overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.

With over 29,000 health and fitness centers in the United States, children should have plenty opportunities for exercise. Unfortunately, however, the majority of these centers exclude children from participating.

In fairness, children have other fitness opportunities outside of gym memberships. They can play on sports teams or participate in individual sports, such as dance. However, team sports do not appeal to all children. And individual sports are expensive compared to a gym membership.

Both the CrossFit organization and United States Weightlifting have recognized the benefits of strength training for children. Over 2500 CrossFit Kids programs around the world instruct kids in safe movement patterns and proper use and handling of fitness equipment. In addition, hundreds of certified weightlifting coaches across the U.S. instruct children in proper techniques for lifting weights.

It would be wonderful if other fitness centers would support our children by offering workout options for them.

I’m NOT advocating in favor of . . .

  • Bringing your baby or toddler to the gym and letting them sit by the wall while you workout
  • Allowing kids to run freely around a gym, potentially hurting themselves and others

I am advocating in favor of . . .

  • Allowing parents or responsible adults to bring their teens and pre-teens to the gym and work alongside them
  • Offering classes that teach children how to properly handle standard gym equipment
  • Issuing “Safety Cards” for children who have demonstrated safe use and handling of gym equipment
  • Offering a separate teen-area with barbells, squat racks and other equipment set aside for younger members
  • Creating “Dad & Me” or “Mom & Me” nights, where parents and kids can use the weight room together
  • Setting up mentoring programs for experienced lifters to teach younger lifters how to lift safely

With a few changes, fitness centers across the nation could educate the next generation of club members and simultaneously help America fight its obesity epidemic.

Or perhaps I’m just venting my frustration . . . ask me how much I still care about this issue once my son turns 16.

As a parent, if you find yourself without training options for your child on vacation, consider these possibilities.

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Resources:

(1) https://www.fitness.gov/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/

Don’t Forget the Halva! Competition Tips for Parents

Youth Weightlifting Competition Tips for Parents - Pic 1

It’s hard to measure just how much a weightlifter goes through when preparing for a competition.  Yes, the kilos and reps and sets can be calculated, but there is also the challenge of dealing with the sore muscles after a particularly tough workout, sacrificing time with friends on a sunny day to go to the gym, and the mental hurdle of bouncing back if yesterday’s workout was less than ideal.  Let’s just say that this sport requires an awful lot from these young athletes.  What I didn’t realize when my kids started lifting is how much preparation a parent must do.

Our preparation begins about a 5 days prior to a competition.  I don’t believe in kids cutting weight, but it is important they learn how to manage their nutrition for a slight “dip” in bodyweight.  If they can maintain a normal weight about 1 kg over their weight class, then I know that by cutting out the carbs the week of the competition they will trim a barely noticeable amount of weight each day until they compete.  They still get plenty of fuel for their bodies, and they don’t feel hungry or deprived.

On the eve of competition, it’s important to gather everything you need for the next day: singlet, shoes, warmups, birth certificates, USAW cards, snacks.  Frantically trying to round up these things when it’s time to head to the competition is not a good way to start the day.

Once the weigh in is done, it’s time for breakfast.  It’s important to conserve energy at this point, so there’s a lot of just sitting around waiting for warm ups to begin.  It can be boring, but reminding kids that it will take all of their energy to set new personal records usually helps.  After snacking on some halva, it’s time for a final pep talk and then warm ups.

All of this is procedural, and can be learned and fine tuned fairly easily.  The difficult part is managing the mental aspect.  Each of my three kids takes a completely different approach to being mentally ready to compete.

My oldest has a very analytical mind, and he felt most comfortable knowing exactly what the goals were and what the game plan was to achieve those goals.  We knew the number he had to hit to qualify for an international team, so in the two weeks leading up to the trials we had long discussions about how different scenarios could play out based on what we thought his openers would be.  Because he had been so involved in forming the game plan, he knew that there wouldn’t have to be any decisions made at the competition.  He was able to relax and lift with confidence, and he qualified for the team!

My middle child has had some outstanding performances when she wakes up on competition day mad at the world.  I’ve learned it’s best to just let her be.  We don’t talk about weightlifting, or the game plan, or about much of anything at all.  She gets into her own little zone, where she stays until shortly before warm ups when we crack a few silly jokes to lighten the mood.

My youngest has had his fair share of struggles with confidence.  So we try to his spirits with a lot of enthusiastic positive affirmations.  We remind him of how hard he has worked, how much he has progressed, and the challenges he’s overcome.

Finally, it’s important to throw kids an occasional curveball.  It’s nice to develop a good routine, but the kids also need to learn how to adapt to unexpected circumstances–like the event running behind schedule or a long line at weigh-in which doesn’t leave much time to eat.  Small, local competitions are a great place to introduce minor disruptions to their routines to see how they handle it.

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About the Author: Matt Flickner is the father of three USAW youth weightlifters.  Matt’s eldest son, formerly a youth weightlifter, qualified for his first international team in 2014.  Matt’s daughter holds three current Youth American Records.   Matt’s youngest son was the U.S. Youth National Champion in the 31kg weight class in 2016.

Athlete Exclusive – Ian Estopare

Youth Weightlifting Ian Estopare Interview - Pic 1

Ian Estopare, age 14, of Overland Park, Kansas recently won his first American Open championship (69 kg/Youth).  Ian has been a competitive weightlifter since age 7 and is coached by Boris Urman.

Q: How did you get started in weightlifting?

My coach, Boris Urman, worked for my father as a strength coach and convinced me to try the sport.

Q: What do you enjoy most about weightlifting?

I love training and getting stronger and smarter in the sport.

Q: What does your current training routine look like?

I train 6 days a week 2 hours a day all year round. I honestly wish I could train twice a day or maybe 3 times because I enjoy it so much.

Q: Who do you train with?

I don’t have a training partner exactly but I do train with one of my best friends, Dean Scicchitano (recently made 2017 youth world team.). We help each other out and motivate each other to be stronger.

Q: Do you have a good luck charm for competitions?If so, what is it?

Ever since I was young my Dad put 2 socks on each foot, and then he’d tie my shoes before every competition.  We’ve kept up this ritual through the years.

Q: Who do you look up to in the sport?Why?

I have many professional world class weightlifters  that I look up to and strive to become like someday. However, I’d say I mostly look up to my coach Boris. He’s been through it all and is a master in every aspect in the sport.

Q: What qualities do great coaches possess?

Being a great coach takes many things. First, they must have the experience to be able to coach their athlete in the best way. They must never, ever give up on an athlete no matter how old, young, weak. No matter what–a great coach never gives up. A coach must believe that the athlete will succeed and will do anything to help them.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I’ve ever received came from my coach Boris. It was one day before we flew out to nationals 2016 and Boris sat all of us down and said, “An eagle is destined to be great at one thing the moment it hatches out of its egg. It’s your job to find out what kind of eagle you are.” That competition I went 6 for 6 and broke all of my personal records.

Q: What have you learned from weightlifting that helps you in other parts of your life?

Commitment in weightlifting really affects your attitude about other things such as school, family, friends, and other hobbies. You must be committed to be great. And if you don’t love it, don’t do it. My Coach Boris has taught me to listen when people try to help you, and weightlifting has taught me to help others that need help.

Q: Where does your strength come from?

My strength definitely comes from my passion to be great in this sport. I understand that it takes relentless hard work and determination, and I am certainly prepared for the challenges. I know that so many people want me to succeed in what I love, and I want them to all see me succeed.

Do You Have What It Takes to Become An Olympian?

Youth Weightlifting Becoming an Olympian - Pic 1

Have you ever watched an Olympian perform a clean and jerk and thought to yourself, “I could do that”?  Read on to see what it takes to join these athletes on the platform . . .

Weightlifting was one of only nine sports featured at the first modern Olympic Games held in Athens in 1896.  It has been on the Olympic program ever since, with the exception of the 1900, 1908, and 1912 Games.

Since 1896, thousands of weightlifters have participated in the Olympic Games.  Do you have what it takes to join these illustrious athletes in the most prestigious athletic competition on earth?

Your chances of becoming an Olympian are best if you . . .

Start weightlifting before age 15.  The average age of a weightlifter in the Olympic games is 25 for men and 24 for women.  The average years of training to obtain an Olympic championship is 10.72 years.  So, you will be in the best position for success if you begin weightlifting before age 14 if you are female or before age 15 if you are male.

Perform well at competitions.  Obviously, you will need to be one of the top weightlifters in your nation to be selected for the Olympics.  However, this is not enough.  The selection procedure for participation in the Olympic Games is complicated:

  1. First, the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) organizes qualifying events to select competitors at the Olympic Games.  For the United States, these events are the World Championships and the Pan Am Games.
  2. Next, countries—not individuals—receive qualification places based on their teams’ performances. This means that an individual could take first place at a World Championship—or even make a new world record—and not get an invitation to the Olympic Games. For example, CJ Cummings set a new youth world record and won gold at the 2016 Youth World Weightlifting Championships.  However, he was not selected by the U.S. to represent them at the 2016 Olympic Games.
  3. Each country is awarded a limited number of spots. For the 2016 Games in Rio, each country could win a maximum of 6 spots for male and 4 spots for female weightlifters. (6) For the 2016 Games, the United States was allocated 3 spots for female lifters and 1 spot for a male lifter.  Note: Individual qualification places are also allocated to athletes, ranked in the top 10 in each bodyweight category, from countries that have not gained any quota places through qualification events.
  4. Then, each country holds its own qualification events to select athletes for these spots. Based on athletes’ performance at the qualification events, countries rank their athletes and select the athletes with the best likelihood of bringing home an Olympic medal. (7)  So, even stellar performance at the qualification events does not guarantee an invitation to the Olympics.  A prime example was Travis Cooper, who was the most eligible male candidate to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Games based on his performance at the qualification events.  Kendrick Farris was selected over Cooper, however, because he was more likely to bring home a medal based on the projected competition at the Olympic Games.

What exactly does this mean? Not all great athletes go to the Games.  You do not have absolute control over whether you will be selected to represent your country at the Olympics.  The best you can do is perform well and help your national team win as many qualification places as possible.

Stay clean.  As of April 2017, 46 weightlifters have been stripped of their Olympic medals due to doping.  These athletes, like all world-class weightlifters, invested countless hours in the gym building strength and perfecting their technique.  Unfortunately, the athletes will not be remembered for their hard work.  They will only be remembered for cheating.  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) stores samples for up to 10 years and retests these samples as new technology becomes available.  So, cheating will be caught—if not immediately, in the future.

Don’t give up on your dream.  “People don’t know the process which [athletes] undertake in their individual sports to reach the Olympic level,” said Jim Ochowicz, who competed in the 1972 Olympic Games. “You get there by sticking it out. There [are] a lot of people that try and give up.”  Many talented athletes drop out on the road to Olympic glory.  The ones who ultimately succeed are the ones who Just. Don’t. Quit.

If you dream of Olympic glory, start young, perform well at competitions, stay away from banned substances, and never give up!

Laying the Tracks for Success: An Interview with Coach Boris Urman

Youth Weightlifting Boris Urman Interview - Pic 1

Boris Urman, of Miriam, Kansas, has over 50 years of experience coaching weightlifting and athletic conditioning.  Boris trained athletes for the USSR Olympic Team for 14 years.  He moved to the United States 34 years ago, where he has trained numerous athletes in weightlifting.  Boris’s athletes have medaled at the Pan American Games, Junior World Championships, Junior Olympics, Junior & School Age Nationals, and Collegiate Championships.

In this interview, Boris shares some of the secrets of his success, as well as why he loves training youth athletes. 

Q: Why is weightlifting beneficial for young athletes:?

Weightlifting teaches kids discipline and helps improve their focus.  It is especially beneficial for high energy kids.  It gives them a good outlet for their energy and teaches respect for their coach and parents.

Q: What qualities do successful youth weightlifters possess?

A child must love weightlifting; otherwise, he will not succeed.  Also, he must be willing to work hard.  Everything else is teachable.

Q: What is the best background for a youth weightlifter?

Gymnastics.  Definitely gymnastics.  A parent can put their child into gymnastics classes around age 2 or 3.  By age 6, they should be ready for weightlifting.

Q: Is it really necessary to start a child so young in weightlifting?

No.  The beauty of weightlifting is that it can be enjoyed by people of all ages.  However, there is no reason why a child cannot lift weights.  Historically, children have been allowed to do hard labor on farms at early ages.  Weightlifting makes kids strong and useful.

Personally, I prefer teaching young athletes over adults.  Children are more teachable, flexible and coordinated.  They learn the technique faster.

Q: You have built numerous successful weightlifters from scratch.  What is the key to building a good weightlifter?

A weightlifter is like a train.  A coach must spend years laying the railroad tracks, constantly correcting any deviations from perfect technique.  Much time is spent developing muscle memory before heavy weights are added.  Once the tracks are laid and the technique is solid, a coach can add weight to the lifter and a powerful train explodes from the station.

Q: How often do your athletes compete?

I like my athletes to compete about once a month.  Competitions are good for building confidence and composure.  On months that my athletes don’t compete, though, I spend a lot of time on strength and conditioning.

Q: What advice do you have for other coaches of youth weightlifters?

Don’t be afraid to be direct with young athletes.  Children need to know where they stand with you.  Don’t tell them, “Good lift,” when the lift is not good.  Be clear with your expectations, and your lifters will rise to meet them.

What is the Right Weight Class for My Child?

Youth Weightlifting Weight Class - Pic 1

In weightlifting, the athlete who successfully lifts the most weight within his weight class wins.  Thus, it is generally beneficial to be both as light as possible and as strong as possible.  A weightlifter can optimize performance by achieving a bodyweight that gives him maximum strength with minimal excess weight.  There is no formula, however, for determining exactly which weight class is best for a weightlifter, and even established adult lifters may compete in a number of weight classes over the course of their weightlifting career.

What does this mean for children and adolescents?

Well, it’s a bit complicated.

First, children are growing.  A child’s constantly changing body makes it much more difficult to determine his or her optimal weight class.  In the course of one year, a child may move up one weight class—or he may move up three weight classes.  If a child moves up three weight classes, but most of the weight gain is fat, he will not be competing at his optimal weight.

Second, BMI, or body mass index, may not be the best indicator of optimal weight for a young weightlifter.  BMI is a calculation of a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his height in meters.  Although BMI is accurate for a large portion of the population, it is often inaccurate for weightlifters, who are heavier because they have more muscle mass.

Third, while an adult weightlifter may be willing to meticulously track food consumption to fit within a given weight class, children are not at all interested in doing this.  Constantly monitoring food intake can eliminate the joy out of an otherwise fun sport—and cause a child to develop an unhealthy relationship with food.

Fourth, the primary focus for youth involved in weightlifting should be on developing good technique with a secondary focus on strength building.

So, should I ignore the weight class system and let my child compete at his current body weight?

Generally, yes.  Your child will have plenty of time to settle into a weight class once he is fully grown.  Until then, there is no need to emphasize body weight.

However, you can give your youth lifter a competitive advantage by helping him maintain a healthy weight.  The following lifestyle changes can benefit your child in weightlifting and for years beyond:

  • Swap the soda, juice, and sugary sports drinks for water. An 18-month trial involving 641 normal-weight children found that replacing sugary beverages with noncaloric beverages reduced weight gain and fat accumulation in the normal-weight children.1
  • Keep your kitchen stocked with a variety of fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories, contain a lot of fiber, and are a great source of vitamins and nutrients.
  • Buy less prepackaged junk: Don’t prohibit your child from eating junk food—just don’t make it readily available. Your child will eat enough of it at parties, friends’ houses, and school.
  • Eat at home as often as possible. It is easy to overeat at restaurants, with free drink refills and enormous portions.  Avoid temptation—and save money—by eating more meals at home.
  • Kick the fast food habit. When children eat fast food, they eat more food all day long. Researcher Shanthy A. Bowman, PhD, with the Department of Agricuture, conducted a study of the eating habits of 6,000 children and adolescents.2  Bowman found that fast-food eaters consumed 15% more calories than non-fast food eaters, or about 57 more calories per day.  At that rate, a child would gain an extra 6 lbs per year—and that’s not 6 lbs of lean muscle!
  • Plan ahead. If you know you’ll be out of the house all evening, pack some healthy snacks to avoid the temptation to feed out of the vending machine or at fast food joints.
  • Set a good example. If you portray healthy eating as a miserable chore, your child will feel the same way about it.  However, if you eat healthy foods with ernest enjoyment, your child will mirror your emotions.

In conclusion, there is no need to stress about fitting your child or adolescent into a particular weight class.  However, you can give your youth weightlifter a competitive advantage by teaching him healthy habits that will contribute to an optimal body weight.

 

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References:

(1) de Ruyter JC, Olthof MR, Seidell JC, Katan MB. A trial of sugar-free or sugar-sweetened beverages and body weight in children. N Engl J Med. 2012;367:1397-406.

(2) Davis, Jeanie Lerche. “Fast Food Creates Fat Kids.” WebMD. January 5, 2004. Accessed April 04, 2017. http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20040105/fast-food-creates-fat-kids.

What is the Best Age to Begin Weightlifting?

Youth Weightlifting Best Age to Begin Weightlifting

Ask ten different weightlifting coaches this question, and you’ll get ten different answers.  Many coaches will not quote a specific age, but rather state that a child must be mature enough to focus, follow directions and handle the disappointment of a failed lift.

Weightlifting coaches are generally in favor of a younger start since kids lose mobility as they age.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waiting until age 8 to begin strength training.1

The best age for your child depends on a number of factors, including your coach’s preference and your child’s maturity level.  The following questions may be helpful in determining whether your child is ready for weightlifting:​

  • Is your child interested in weightlifting?
  • Does your child have time to devote to weightlifting?
  • Is your child willing to listen and take instructions from his coach?
  • Does your child have the attention span required for the scheduled weightlifting practices?​
  • Is your child comfortable in a sport where the focus is on individual effort?

And, if you decide that your child is not yet ready for the demands of weightlifting, you might consider a foundational sport, such as gymnastics, until your child is older.

Finally, if your child does participate, below are a few helpful guidelines to follow:2

  • Provide qualified instruction and supervision
  • Ensure the exercise environment is safe and free of hazards
  • Start each training session with a 5 to 10 minute dynamic warm-up period
  • Begin with relatively light loads and always focus on the correct exercise technique
  • Perform 1 to 3 sets of 6 to 15 repetitions on a variety of upper and lower body strength exercises
  • Include specific exercises that strengthen the abdominal and lower back region
  • Focus on symmetrical muscular development and appropriate muscle balance around joints
  • Perform 1 to 3 sets of 3 to 6 repetitions on a variety of upper and lower body power exercises
  • Sensibly progress the training program depending on needs, goals and abilities
  • Increase the resistance gradually (5% to 10%) as strength improves
  • Cool-down with less intense calisthenics and static stretching
  • Listen to individual needs and concerns throughout each session
  • Begin resistance training two to three times per week on nonconsecutive days
  • Use individualized workout logs to monitor progress
  • Keep the program fresh and challenging by systematically varying the training program
  • Optimize performance and recovery with healthy nutrition, proper hydration and adequate sleep
  • Support and encouragement from instructors and parents will help to maintain interest

 

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References:

(1) Metzel, Jordan D., MD. “Are Weights Safe for Kids? New Resource from the AAP Helps Answer Parents’ Questions About Injury Prevention and Strength Training at Home.”

(2) Feigenbaum, Avery . “Youth Resistance Training: Updated Position Statement Paper.” National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal, January 9, 2009, 4.

Is Weightlifting Safe for Children?

Youth Weightlifting Is Weightlifting Safe for Children

My 13 year-old son recently took off his shirt for a scoliosis screening at school.  The examining nurse commented, “Wow, you are really muscular.  You must be a wrestler.”  When my son stated that he was not a wrestler, but rather an Olympic weightlifter, the nurse’s look of approval turned to one of concern.  “Weightlifting?  At your age?  You’re too young for that.”

The nurse’s ill-advised comments are all too familiar for parents of youth weightlifters.  Many people believe that weightlifting is harmful for young athletes.

Even so, weightlifting is currently one of the fastest growing sports for children around the world.  In the United States alone, between 2012 and 2016, USA Weightlifting (USAW) experienced an unprecedented 181% growth in membership among youth athletes.1  According to Brad Suchorski, USAW Membership Manager, as of January 2017, there were over 2,500 weightlifters under the age of 18 in the United States.   This represented a 27% increase in membership for male athletes and a 49% increase in membership for female athletes in a single year!

However, just because masses of parents are signing their kids up for the sport . . . is it safe for our children?

This article examines the two most common objections to youth weightlifting: first, that lifting heavy weights can stunt a child’s growth; and second, that weightlifting is a dangerous sport.

Objection 1: Lifting Heavy Weights Stunts Growth in Children

A child’s bones are subject to a unique injury not experienced by adults – growth plate fractures.

Children and teenagers have a piece of cartilage called an epiphyseal plate, or growth plate, near the end of their long bones.  This cartilage constantly produces new cells which later harden (or ossify) and create new bone tissue that becomes part of the long bone.  Complete ossification of the bone occurs after a child reaches maturity, usually between ages 13 and 15 for girls and 15 and 17 for boys.2

As shown in the figure above, long bones have two growth plates – one on the top and one on the bottom.  As such, these long bones do not grow from the center out, instead, they grow from each end at the growth plates.

When a growth plate is injured, there is potential for arthritis or even deformities in the affected bone.  Growth plate injuries, however, are rare.3, 6  And about 85% of the time, growth plate injuries heal with no lasting effects.3   Further, those that do occur are typically successfully treated without long term problems.2

So, what causes growth plate injuries?

Growth plate fractures are most often caused by a single event, such as a car accident or serious fall.  However, they can also be caused by activities that deliver repetitive stress to bones such as: repeated impact to the bone, long hours spent on activities (e.g. a pitcher perfecting a curve ball), running, and so on.4

Over 50% of growth plate injuries result from a fall.5  Approximately 30% of growth plate injuries occur during participation in competitive sports such as football, basketball or gymnastics.  And, the last 20% of growth plate injuries occur during participation in recreational activities such as biking, sledding, skiing, or skateboarding.6

It is also noteworthy to mention that boys are more at risk for growth plate injuries, as girls mature faster than the boys.6

What are typical signs of growth plate injuries?

Symptoms of a growth plate injury in children are the same as those for a broken bone, and include:

  • inability to put weight or pressure on the limb,
  • pain or discomfort,
  • swelling or tenderness in the area of the bone, near the joint, and
  • inability to move the limb.3, 6

I’m sure this goes without saying, but if you suspect your child has a bone injury, get immediate care from your pediatrician, orthopedic surgeon or your local emergency room.

Can weightlifting cause a growth plate injury?  

Absolutely—but so can baseball, gymnastics, football, running, skiing, falling out of a tree or just being a kid.

The real question is: Is there a higher incidence of growth plate injuries in children who participate in weightlifting?

No.  There is not a higher incidence of growth plate injuries in children who participate in weightlifting as opposed to other sports.

One of the most comprehensive study of youth resistance training was conducted by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).7  The most recent study, conducted in 2014, published its results in “Position Statement on Youth Resistance Training: the 2014 International Consensus.”8  That article, and its findings, were widely endorsed, including by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM), the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), and the Chief Medical Officer, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The NSCA undertook the study because of the growing interest among researchers, clinicians and practitioners in children and adolescents participation in various forms of resistance training (i.e., the use of body weight, weight machines, free weights (barbells and dumbbells), elastic bands and medicine balls). The NSCA found that there was a “compelling body of scientific evidence that supports regular participation in youth resistance training to reinforce positive health and fitness adaptations and sports performance enhancement,” provided that the programs are supervised by qualified professionals.

From a health perspective, evidence indicates that resistance training can make positive alterations in overall body composition, reduce body fat, improve insulin-sensitivity in adolescents who are overweight and enhance cardiac function in children who are obese.

Importantly, it has also been demonstrated that regular participation in an appropriately designed exercise program inclusive of resistance training, can … likely reduce sports-related injury risk in young athletes. This would appear to be an important consideration given that approximately 3.5 million sports-related injuries in youth require a medical visit each year in the USA.

Additionally, muscular strength and resistance training have been associated with positive psychological health and well-being in children and adolescents.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and other public health agencies now include resistance training as part of their physical activity guidelines for children and adolescents.

In its review, the NSCA determined:

Fears that resistance training injures the growth plates of youth are not supported by scientific reports or clinical observations.

Rather, the literature suggests that childhood and adolescence are key developmental periods for increasing bone-mineral density, and that failure to participate in moderate-to-vigorous weight-bearing physical activity during these stages of growth may predispose individuals to long-term bone-health implications.

No scientific evidence indicates that resistance training will have an adverse effect on linear growth during childhood or adolescence or reduce eventual height in adulthood.

And, specifically with regard to weightlifting for young athletes, the NSCA found that “participation in the sport of weightlifting and the performance of weightlifting movements as part of a strength and conditioning program can be safe, effective and enjoyable for children and adolescents provided qualified supervision and instruction are available and progression is based on the technical performance of each lift … If training and competition are properly supervised and sensibly progressed, then the performance of weightlifting exercises may provide a safe and effective stimulus for enhancing strength and power performance in school-age youth.”

Objection 2: Weightlifting is a Dangerous Sport

The sport of weightlifting involves lifting maximal effort weight overhead in the snatch or the clean and jerk.  Naturally, heavy weights have the potential to harm the individual lifting them, but do they at higher rates than other sports?

No.  Studies of sports-related injuries in school-aged youth have shown weightlifting to be one of the safest sports.9

Although the data comparing the relative safety of resistance training, weightlifting, and other sports are limited, one evaluation of injury rates in adolescents revealed that resistance training and weightlifting were markedly safer than many other sports and activities (with the overall injury rate per 100 participant hours was 0.8000 for rugby and 0.0120 and 0.0013 for resistance training and weightlifting, respectively).

Another study which evaluating the incidence of sports-related injuries in school-aged youth had similar findings:

Over a one-year period, resistance training resulted in 0.7% of 1576 injuries whereas football, basketball, and soccer resulted in approximately 19%, 15%, and 2%, respectively, of all injuries. When the data were evaluated in terms of injury to participant ratio in school team sports, football (28%), wrestling (16.4%) and gymnastics (13%) were at the top of the list.

The generally accepted explanation for this is the fact that the sport of weightlifting is typically characterized by well-informed coaches and a gradual progression of training loads which are required to effectively learn the technique of advanced multipoint lifts.

In support of these observations, others have evaluated the incidence of injury in young weightlifters and concluded that competitive weightlifting can be a relatively safe sport for children and adolescents provided that age-appropriate training guidelines are followed and qualified coaching is available. Since weightlifting movements involve more complex neural activation patterns than other resistance exercises, childhood may be the ideal time to develop the coordination and skill technique to perform these lifts correctly. To date, no scientific evidence indicates that properly performed and sensibly progressed weightlifting movements performed during practice or competition are riskier than other sports and activities in which youth regularly participate. Nevertheless, due to the potential for injury during the performance of multi-joint free weight exercises, youth coaches should be aware of the considerable amount of time it takes to teach these lifts and should be knowledgeable of the progression from basic exercises (e.g., front squat), to skill transfer exercises (e.g., overhead squat), and finally to the competitive lifts (snatch and clean and jerk).

Not only have studies shown that athletes who incorporate resistance training, such as weightlifting, in their programs suffer fewer injuries and less time in rehabilitation than team-mates who do not participate in resistance training, but the studies also find numerous benefits to such training.

In conclusion, weightlifting is safe for kids.  Like all sports, weightlifting carries with it some risk of injury.  However, the risk of injury while weightlifting can be minimized by qualified supervision, appropriate program design, sensible progression, allowing for adequate recovery between training sessions and listening to the athlete’s questions and concerns.

So, find a good coach, respect the equipment, and enjoy the sport!

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References:

(1) Farley, K. (2016, Winter). The Quad that Was. USA Weightlifting.org, 13.

(2) “Growth Plate Injuries.” KidsHealth. September 2016. Accessed March 29, 2017.

(3) Lueder, Rani, and Valerie J. Berg. Rice. Ergonomics for children: designing products and places for toddler to teens. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2008, 218.

(4) What Are Growth Plate Injuries? Fast Facts: An Easy-to-Read Series of Publications for the Public. (2014, November).

(5) Lueder, Rani, and Valerie J. Berg. Rice. Ergonomics for children: designing products and places for toddler to teens. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2008, 217.

(6) “Growth Plate Fractures-OrthoInfo – AAOS.” Growth Plate Fractures-OrthoInfo – AAOS. October 01, 2014. Accessed March 29, 2017.

(7) Previous reviews also were conducted by the NSCA in 1985, 1996, and 2009.

(8) Feigenbaum, Avery. “Position statement on youth resistance training: the 2014 International Consensus.” National Strength and Conditioning Journal, September 20, 2013, 3-4. Accessed March 29, 2017.

(9) Feigenbaum, Avery . “Youth Resistance Training: Updated Position Statement Paper.” National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal, January 9, 2009, 4. Accessed March 29, 2017.