Kyle Martin, Jr. – July 2017 Featured Athlete

Please let us introduce you to our July 2017 featured athlete: Kyle Martin, Jr.  Kyle is ten years old youth weightlifter competing in the 44 kg weight class and is from Oley, PA.

When did you get started in this sport?

At age 8

What (or who) got you started?

I would go to the gym with my dad and climb the rope until I watched Dane Miller’s niece compete online at youth nationals in 2015. The next day I started training Olympic lifting to get ready for the 2016 youth nationals.

What do you enjoy most about weightlifting?

I like the competitions and hanging out with my teammates at Garage Strength.

What does your current training routine look like?

I train 1-2 hours per day when I am not playing baseball or wrestling. I train at Garage Strength under the supervision of my coaches Dane Miller, Jacob Horst, and DJ Shuttleworth.

What one or two things do you currently do in your training that has been impactful?

I always listen to my coaches and do lot of squats to help improve my clean and jerk.

What do you carry around with you in your gym bag that has nothing to do with weightlifting?

Nothing. Dane Miller will not let me bring iPads or toys into the gym.

What is your diet like?

Cereal in the morning, protein and pasta for lunch, and chicken or PB&J for dinner. Dane does not like it when I eat a lot of sugar.

Who do you look up to in the sport?

Jenny Arthur

Why?

I have meet Jenny a couple times during training. She has always been inspiring and helpful when we have meet. I like watching her and other weightlifters compete online.

What friendships has this sport brought your way?

At meets I see a lot of familiar faces and we get to support each other. I also train with Connor Pennington, 12u lifter, we help push each other to new PRs.

Are you coachable?

Yes. I learned how to take direction from my coaches at a young age when I was in Karate.

What are your long term weightlifting goals?

I want to make a world team and represent the United States! I also want to continue to train  to improve my performance in other sports like baseball and wrestling.

What qualities do great coaches possess?

Patience. My coaches are patient and teach me how to lift with good technique even when I am not having my best day on the platform.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Learn how to lose.

Did you take it?

Yes. I’ve learned winning is fun but not the most important thing about training and competing. My main focus is on learning good form and technique first before winning. Learning how to lose is just as important as winning.

What characteristics do you strive for (on and off the platform)?

I always try to do my best and focus on my form and technique.

When you have random free time, how do you spend it?

Most of my time is spent at school, training at Garage Strength, or playing baseball or wrestling. My free time is spent catching up on homework and playing Minecraft.

If you could master anything (besides weightlifting), what would it be?

To be a great baseball player.

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

Weightlifting helps me become a better athlete and to do better in other sports. My strength training has help me with wrestling.

What are you most grateful for?

My family for supporting me with weightlifting and taking me to my meets.

Where does your strength come from?

From the awesome programming of my coach Dane Miller and not my Dad 😊

Coaching Harrison Maurus: An Interview with Kevin Simons

USA Weightlifting held a technique training seminar on Friday, June 22, in conjunction with the 2017 National Youth Championships.  The seminar featured youth world record holder, Harrison Maurus, Maurus’s coach, Kevin Simons, Pyrros Dimas, and Tamas Feher.  The big names drew a large crowd of athletes, parents and coaches.  Tamas Feher led the seminar, explaining the correct progression for teaching the Olympic lifts.  Pyrros Dimas offered supporting comments, and Maurus demonstrated the movements.  Simons, however, remained silent in the background.

While the seminar offered nuggets of good information, it was not what the audience expected.  The audience expected to hear Kevin Simons speak about coaching Harrison Maurus.  In six short years, Simons introduced Maurus to the sport of weightlifting and helped him achieve a new youth world record.  This is a phenomenal accomplishment, and the audience wanted to hear the secrets of this success.  I caught up with Simons after the seminar and gathered the information the audience missed:

Q: Kevin, I expected you to speak about training Harrison at this seminar.  What happened?

Simons: I was prepared to speak about training Harrison and my other athletes.  However, the opportunity did not arise.

Q: I think many people would be interested in hearing your thoughts.  What were you prepared to say at the seminar?

Simons: I was going to speak about my history with Harrison and how I train my athletes.  I take coaching very seriously, and I am always happy to share my methods with other athletes and coaches.  I feel that my methods are working—Harrison currently holds a youth world record as well as multiple American records.  Also, three of my eight athletes took first place medals here at the 2017 Youth Nationals.

Q: What is your history with Harrison?

Simons: I started out as Harrison’s gymnastics coach.  Harrison was a good gymnast, but he was not a perfect fit for the sport.  I knew that Harrison had great potential as an athlete, though, and I wanted to help him develop this potential.  I am a competitive CrossFit athlete, and I started teaching Harrison weightlifting.  First, we experimented with powerlifting.  Then, we decided to try the Olympic lifts. In fact, Harrison was the first athlete I ever taught to do a snatch or clean and jerk.  Harrison was a natural, and we have been together ever since.  It has been amazing to grow with him as a coach and to travel the world together.

At the 2017 Youth World Championships in Bangkok in April 2017, 17 year-old Maurus (77kg) claimed a new youth world record with a 192kg clean and jerk.  Maurus finished 2nd overall in the snatch, 1st in the clean and jerk, and 1st in the total.

Q: What makes your coaching different than other weightlifting coaches?

Simons: I want my kids to be well-rounded, healthy athletes, not just good weightlifters.  In addition to teaching weightlifting movements, I teach my athletes how to eat properly and rest to maximize their performance.  I also teach them exercises that will benefit their overall athleticism, and not just their weightlifting abilities.

Q: What do you tell your athletes about eating?

Simons: I begin with the basics.  I teach my athletes what a balanced meal should look like.  Each meal should include some protein, carbohydrates, and fat.  A portion of protein should be about the size of the palm of your hand.  A portion of carbohydrates should fit within a cupped hand.  A portion of fat should be about the size of your thumb.  If an athlete needs to cut weight, about 50% of the diet should be vegetables.  If an athlete does not need to cut weight, only about 25% of the diet needs to be vegetables.  I try to keep things simple so that my athletes can easily implement healthy eating into their lives.  Good nutrition is very important to athletic performance, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

In specific situations, I work with my athletes to develop tailored meal plans.  Also, I encourage my new athletes to weigh and measure their foods for a couple of weeks until they understand the proper portion sizes for their bodies.

Simons competed in the 2012 and 2015 CrossFit Games.

Q: You mentioned using non-weightlifting exercises in your training.  Why do you do this?

Simons:  I am a big advocate of GPP (general physical preparedness).  I want my weightlifters, especially the younger ones, to be exposed to a variety of movements.  Until about age 12, kids should be involved in a variety of sports and doing a variety of movements.  They should be running, jumping, lifting, pulling, climbing, throwing, tumbling—doing things to develop their bodies generally.  Of course they can also be learning the competitive lifts, but this should not be the primary focus.  Around age 12 or 13, those kids who decide to lift competitively can begin a more structured weightlifting program.  However, GPP is still important for competitive weightlifters.

Q: What GPP exercises do you use?

Simons:  I use a variety of movements.  I especially like pulling exercises like rope climbs, sled pulls, strict muscle ups, and peg boards to develop the shoulders.  Some of my female athletes can perform 6+ consecutive legless rope climbs.  I feel that this accessory work gives my athletes an edge when it comes to overhead movements.  Their shoulders are very strong.

Q: What does your weightlifting training look like?

Simons: My beginner lifters do a lot of drills emphasizing position and movement.  I reinforce movement patterns through a large number of reps and sets.  I require lifters to consistently perform the movements properly before I allow them to move on to higher weights.  I also include a lot of jumping exercises and plenty of GPP.

Q: What about your advanced lifters?

Simons: When a lifter has developed the muscle memory to consistently perform the snatch and clean and jerk well, I allow them to add more weight.  I don’t limit the weight as long as the lifter can demonstrate good form.  However, I do limit the number of attempts my lifters make above 90%.  My lifters are youth lifters, which means that they should have long weightlifting careers in front of them if they don’t get injured.  I do not allow my athletes to train through an injury, so the best course of action for everyone is to prevent injuries from happening.  We save singles and max out attempts for competitions and the weeks leading up to a competition.  We work mostly in sets of 2 or 3 reps, which allows the lifters to build strength without over-stressing the joints.

Q: Do your elite level lifters receive extra training or advice?

Simons: Of course.  As lifters approach the senior level, different issues arise, such as overtraining.  It becomes necessary to fine tune nutrition, recovery, and training.  Periodization in training becomes more important.

Q: You mentioned that you don’t allow your lifters to go over 90% very often.  At what percentage do you normally train?

Simons: I don’t specify percentages in daily training.  Youth weightlifters are developing strength so quickly that percentages are not generally helpful.  What could be a weightlifter’s max one month could be their 75% the next.  I find it more helpful to specify a starting weight for each lifter.  I allow the lifter to add weight with each subsequent set, as their technique allows.  If a lifter’s technique breaks down, the lifter is not allowed to go up in weight.

This approach sets my weightlifters up for success in competition.  Since my lifters are always required to lift with good technique, they do not make many misses in training.  In fact, Harrison went three years without missing a clean. Because my lifters practice making their lifts—not missing their lifts—they go into each competition lift expecting success.  And usually, they are successful.

Q: How often do your lifters compete?

Simons: I limit the number of competitions we attend.  All of my lifters love to compete, but competitions break up the training schedule.  Each competition requires a ramp-up period and a recovery period, which takes away from building strength.  My athletes perform better—physically and mentally—when we take on a smaller number of competitions.

Q: What advice would you give to other coaches who are trying to develop youth weightlifting programs?

Simons: Seek out “feeder” opportunities.  For instance, I work with a gymnastics center, offering strength and conditioning training to competitive gymnasts.  Some of these gymnasts fall in love with weightlifting and become members of my team.  It is also good if you can create training partnerships—a pair of athletes that can push each other.  Harrison works with a 105+ lifter who pushes him to lift heavier weights.  Also, it is great if you can create a positive competitive atmosphere.  Create opportunities for kids to compete against each other daily in the gym.

Q: What are your personal goals as a coach?

Simons: I want to become the best weightlifting coach in America.

With his attention to detail and dedication to his athletes, Simons is well on his way to achieving his goal.

 

The Gift of Coaching: An Interview with Dennis Espinosa

Coach Dennis Espinosa, of Salina, Kansas is a well-known name in U.S. weightlifting.  Espinosa has been a weightlifting coach for over 20 years, is an International Weightlifting Federation Category I Referee and has coached numerous athletes to the national and international levels.  In this interview, Espinosa talks about the benefits of youth weightlifting, the challenges of coaching and the transformation of the sport over the past 20 years.

Q: When did you first become involved in weightlifting?

A: My mother was a fan of weightlifting in the Olympic Games.  I remember watching the 1976 Games with her on TV and sharing her excitement for the sport.  There were no Olympic weightlifting opportunities available to me at the time, but I was very interested in the sport.  In my late teens, I got involved in powerlifting and bodybuilding.  I continued these sports when I opened my own gym in 1988.  In 1997, I turned my attention to Olympic weightlifting and became a sanctioned club with USA weightlifting.

Q: Tell me about your weightlifting program.

A: I currently coach 16 youth athletes in two separate programs.  My competitive program is called Reps and Sets Team Salina.  Right now, I train eight competitive weightlifters in this program.  I also run a strength and conditioning program through the Parks & Rec department.  The athletes in this program receive general strength training.  I use the strength and conditioning program as a feeder program for my competitive team.  It helps me identify athletes with the interest and talent to succeed in competitive weightlifting.  Also, involvement with the Parks and Rec department gives me a free place to train my competitive team!

Q: What does your typical training session look like?

A: I begin with Coaching Corner, where I gather all of my athletes together and give them an overview of what we will be doing that day.  Then, we perform a General Warm Up and a Specific Warm Up, which includes core and stability exercises as well as skill transfer drills. Finally, we proceed into the Olympic lifts.

Q: What benefits does weightlifting offer to youth?

A: Weightlifting requires a tremendous amount of discipline.  Kids who stick with the sport learn to organize themselves, become self-reliant, and control their minds and bodies.

Q: Why do you like working with youth athletes?

A: Training a new weightlifter is like unwrapping a gift.  You don’t know what talent a child holds until you begin working with him.  I enjoy training all types of weightlifters—high energy ones, quiet ones—it is always an adventure figuring out how to motivate and get the best out of each lifter.

Q: What is the hardest thing about being a coach?

A: When lifters leave.  A good coach invests himself in each of his athletes.  He learns their personalities, what motivates them, and how to develop them into the best versions of themselves.  When athletes leave—for whatever reason—it is heartbreaking.

Q: You’ve spent 20 years coaching Olympic weightlifting.  In this time, the sport has completely transformed.  To what do you attribute this?

A: Olympians always increase awareness and interest for a sport.  So, having weightlifters from the U.S. in the Olympic Games has brought more attention to the sport.  CrossFit has also had a huge influence by introducing athletes to the Olympic lifts.  In fact, CrossFit is probably the best thing that has happened to the sport of weightlifting!

Q: What is different about the sport of weightlifting now than when you started?

A: Young coaches are able to develop their athletes much more successfully now than when I started.  This has put the sport in a better position.  There are now more talented youth weightlifters than ever before in the U.S.

 

Q: Why is this?

A: USA Weightlifting’s coaching curriculum is better developed in recent days.  Coaches better understand how to motivate athletes, program, and deal with the mental aspects of coaching.  Also, information on weightlifting is more readily available and shared.

 

Q: What advice would you give to new weightlifting coaches?

A: Become a referee.  As a coach, it is absolutely essential to know the rules of the sport.  The information you gain in the referee courses will benefit your athletes and give you a better understanding of the sport.  Soon after becoming a weightlifting coach, I became a referee.  The information I gained in the referee courses has made me a better coach.

Also, compliment your lifters regularly.  Don’t tear them down; always build them up.

Oh Cramp!

Youth Weightlifting Muscle Cramp

If you have been weightlifting long, there is a good chance you’ve experienced muscle cramps, also referred to as muscle spasms.  What are they?  What causes them?  And most importantly . . . How can you prevent them?

What is a muscle cramp?

A muscle cramp is a sudden, involuntary muscle contraction.  It is usually harmless, but it can cause severe pain, limit range of motion, and make it temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle.  A muscle cramp feels like a hard lump of tissue under the skin.

What causes muscle cramps?

According to Michael F. Bergeron, executive director of the National Institute for Athletic Health & Performance at Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., muscle cramps are caused by two things:

    1. Muscle Overload & Fatigue: When an inadequately conditioned athlete trains intensely with heavy loads, local cramping of the overworked muscles can occur.

 

  1. Electrolyte Deficits: Extensive sweating can lead to a whole-body electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to widespread cramping, even when there is no muscle overload or fatigue.

Creatine consumption does not cause muscle cramps. Dr. Michael Greenwood, of Arkansas State University, conducted studies of Division IA football players between 1998 and 2000, examining the effects of creatine on cramps, dehydration, muscle tightness, muscle strains, non-contact joint injuries, contact injuries, and illness.

At the end of the study, Dr. Greenwood concluded that, “Creatine supplementation does not appear to increase the incidence of injury or cramping in Division IA college football players.” In fact, creatine users had significantly less cramping, heat illness or dehydration, muscle tightness, muscle strains, and total injuries than non-creatine users.

Dr. Greenwood subsequently performed a similar study with baseball players, who were training and competing in hot, humid environments. The results were similar, leading Dr. Greenwood to conclude that creatine consumption did not appear to increase the incidence of dehydration, cramping, and/or muscle injury in comparison to athletes who do not take creatine.

 

Muscle cramps are especially common in weightlifters because they . . .

    1. Train Heavy & Work Hard: Weightlifters consistently load their muscles with heavy weights and work the muscles to fatigue.

 

  1. Dehydrate Regularly: The most common way to drop weight prior to a weightlifting competition is to shed water weight through mild dehydration. Dehydration can contribute to an electrolyte imbalance.
Dehydration may not cause muscle cramps.  
Some people in the medical community believe that dehydration—even significant dehydration—does not increase a person’s tendency to experience muscle cramps.
A 2010 study performed by the Department of Health, Nutrition, and Exercise Sciences at North Dakota State University, examined the effects of sweat loss on 10 male cyclists.  The men cycled until they had lost 3% of their body mass in sweat.  The resulting dehydration did not increase their tendency for muscle cramps. 
Another study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2013 examined the effects of serious dehydration on athletes at work.  Specifically, researchers tested ten 24-year old men, having them exercise until they had lost 5% of their body mass (about 4 liters) of water.  The researchers found that dehydration and mild electrolyte loss did not make the men more susceptible to muscle cramps.
Even so, many individuals in the medical community, still believe that dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can cause muscle cramps.  These individuals refute the methods used in the studies mentioned and cite the science behind the theory:
“When the nerves that connect to the muscles aren’t surrounded by as much water and sodium as they need,” they become hypersensitive, causing the muscles to involuntarily contract or spasm, says Bergeron, executive director of the National Institute for Athletic Health & Performance at Sanford USD Medical Center.  

How can I treat muscle cramps?

The two types of muscle cramps have different causes and, therefore, require different treatments:

Muscle Overload & Fatigue

  1. Massage: Massaging the cramped muscle increases blood circulation to the affected area and helps relax the muscle.

When massaging a cramp, you can use your hands or a number of massage tools, such as a foam roller, a ball, or a stick.

Massaging a local muscle cramp can be painful and take several sessions.  Once, after beginning an intense squat program, my son developed a baseball-sized muscle cramp in his thigh.  It took two weeks of nightly massage before it was resolved.

Caution: You can cause bruising if you massage a single area for too long or press too hard.  Be patient, and take breaks if needed.

    1. Stretching: Stretching can also help ease the muscle cramp and prevent further cramping.  Stretching and massage can be alternated to relax the muscle.

 

  1. Heat: Heat also increases blood flow to the affected area. An Epsom salt bath is especially beneficial since Epsom salts contain magnesium, which is known for relaxing muscles.

Electrolyte Deficits

Some medical professionals are not convinced that dehydration or electrolyte deficits cause muscle cramps.  They argue that there are no studies linking dehydration or electrolyte losses and an increased tendency for muscle cramping.

Other medical professionals, however, point out that—with or without studies—muscle cramps happen!  And they tend to occur more often when athletes are overworked, fatigued, dehydrated and have electrolyte losses.

So, what should you do with these conflicting opinions?

Stay hydrated with a beverage that includes electrolytes!

There is no question that your body needs water and electrolytes.  Electrolytes are minerals that break down into electrically charged particles called ions when they are dissolved in water.  Water serves as a conductor, allowing the ions to move.  Electrolytes regulate your body’s fluids, help maintain the pH balance of your blood, and create the electrical impulses needed for your body to perform all of its functions, including lifting weights.

Worst case scenario, drinking a beverage with electrolytes will have no effect on your tendency to develop muscle cramps.  Best case scenario, it may ward off these cramps.  Either way, your body will perform better with a healthy electrolyte balance.

How can I prevent muscle cramps?

Both types of muscle cramps may be minimized through —

  1. Regular Stretching: Keeping muscles loose and flexible will help prevent them from tightening up and cramping.
  2. Easing Into a Training Program: Give your muscles a chance to adjust to any increases in weight, volume and intensity by adjusting just one element at a time. For instance, if you decide to add an extra thirty minutes to your daily training sessions, don’t simultaneously increase the weight and volume on all of your lifts.
  3. Eating a Healthy Diet: There are seven major electrolytes—sodium, chloride, potassium magnesium, calcium, phosphate, and bicarbonate.  These electrolytes are found in a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.  An electrolyte replacement beverage can also be used to replenish electrolytes lost during sweaty training sessions.

Final Points of Consideration—

  1. Muscle cramps can occur spontaneously, even with the best prevention. Don’t get frustrated when they happen.
  2. If muscle cramps happen frequently, are severe or don’t improve over time, consult a doctor.

____________________________________________________________________________

Resources:

(1) Muscle Cramps (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/muscle-cramp/symptoms-causes/dxc-20186052)

(2) Does Creatine Cause Muscle Cramps? (http://www.acvcrampcure.com/blog/does-creatine-cause-muscle-cramps)

(3) What Causes Muscle Cramps And Shortcuts For Muscle Cramp Relief!(http://www.complete-strength-training.com/what-causes-muscle-cramps.html)

(4) Muscle Cramps during Exercise: Is It Fatigue or Electrolyte Deficit? (http://www.sportsnutritionworkshop.com/Files/57.SPNT.pdf)

(5) Significant and serious dehydration does not affect skeletal muscle cramp threshold frequency (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23222192)

(6) Three percent hypohydration does not affect threshold frequency of electrically induced cramps (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20351595)

(7) Massage Solutions for Muscle Cramps (http://www.integrativehealthcare.org/mt/archives/2006/09/massage_solutio.html)

(8) Electrolytes 101 (http://www.active.com/nutrition/articles/electrolytes-101-881422)

(9) What Are Electrolytes… And Why Are They So Important? (https://www.builtlean.com/2012/11/28/electrolytes/)

8 Squat Workouts Away from Home

Youth Weightlifting Squat Workouts

On vacation some people relax and take a break from training.  And some people search frantically for a barbell, not wanting to miss any training opportunities.  If you’re reading this, you probably belong to the second group.  Good news . . . I’ve got you covered.

Here are 8 non-barbell squat workouts that can be done just about anywhere.

WORKOUTS WITH WEIGHT

When traveling, it is hard to find a barbell and free weights.  Most hotels/resorts/campgrounds/cruise ships just don’t have these things.  However, many places do have dumbbells or kettle bells.  Don’t turn up your nose and walk away!   Use them.  Here are 4 squat possibilities if you can find some weight.

Q: How much weight should you use?

A: Use something heavy.  The last rep in each set should feel very challenging.

WORKOUTS WITHOUT WEIGHT

If you have absolutely no access to weights, consider these 4 options:

 

In addition to being great vacation workouts, these workouts can be used

  • As “finishers” after any weightlifting workout
  • Between strength building programs to increase speed and explosiveness in the squat
  • As quick workouts if you only have a little time
  • As early morning workouts if you want to add a little “extra” to your training

Youth Weightlifting in Germany

Youth Weightlifting in Germany

Three years ago, my family moved from the United States to Germany. As soon as we arrived, we sought out the local weightlifting club. Weightlifting is what we love to do, and we wanted to jump right into the weightlifting scene in Germany. It took us a couple of attempts, but we finally connected with the coaches at a nearby athletic club, AC Kindsbach. Like most weightlifting clubs, AC Kindsbach is a small club that is only open for a couple of hours each evening.

Upon meeting the coaches, my first question was, “Do you coach weightlifting?” The coach, Ernst Shäfer, responded, “Yes. I was a World Champion in 1988.” Good enough. My next question was, “How much do you charge?” Ernst responded, “Twenty-four euros.” Twenty-four euros is about $26. Per week? Per session? Ernst clarified, “Per Year.” Per YEAR?! I knew we had found our club.

Then, I asked, “Will you coach my son?” At the time, my son was only 10-years old, and I knew that many weightlifting coaches would not be interested in coaching someone so young. Another coach, Marco Walz, who was standing nearby, said, “I will coach him.” Little did I know that Hutch was Marco’s first athlete. I was just pleased that my son had a coach!

And thus began our adventure in German youth weightlifting . . .

Over the years, we learned the ins and outs of the system. Youth weightlifting is quite different in Germany than in the United States. In Germany, a stronger emphasis is placed on overall athletic development and building technical proficiency with the barbell. This is reflected in the competitions.

Up to age 16, weightlifters in Germany participate in a two-part competition, which includes Athletics and Weightlifting.

Athletics:

Each competition includes four athletic events that contribute to an athlete’s overall score. In most competitions, these events are:

Ball Throw: Athletes throw a weighted ball (2kg to 5kg) behind them. Points are awarded according to how far the ball travels. Athletes are given
two attempts to throw the ball as far as they can. This exercise trains explosive hip extension.

Video of Ball Throw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Triple Jump: Athletes begin standing still and jump three consecutive times. Points are awarded according to how far the athlete jumps. This exercise trains hip extension and leg strength.

 

 

Toes to Bar: Athletes begin hanging from a bar. They must bring their toes to the bar as many times as possible without swinging. This exercise trains core strength and flexibility.

 

Sprints: Athletes sprint in a pattern, touching an object 5 meters, 10 meters and then 5 meters away. This exercise trains speed and explosiveness.

Video of Sprint

 

There are always four athletic events in the competition. However, the events are not always the same.

For instance, at the 2016 German Youth Nationals the triple jump was swapped out for a vertical jump. At the 2017 South German Championships, pushups were substituted for toes to bar.

 

Weightlifting:

Technique Points: German weightlifting uses a ten-point system to award points for technique. Referees in youth competitions must know how to score according to this system, deducting points and partial points for deviations from correct technique.

A very good lift receives a score of about 7.0. Here is an example of a lift that received a 7.0.

Video of 7.0 Lift

An outstanding lift may receive a score of 9.0. Here is an example of a lift that received a 9.0. I have never seen a score higher than 9.0 awarded in a competition.

Video of 9.0 Lift

Weight on Barbell: An athlete’s weightlifting score is determined by multiplying the technique points by the weight on the barbell. So, the actual amount of weight lifted DOES matter. However, it is not the only thing that matters.

All of this might be interesting, but why does it matter for youth weightlifters in the United States?

Consider the following . . . What are the benefits of Germany’s Youth Weightlifting System?

  • Well-Rounded Approach: The German system requires youth weightlifters to develop overall athleticism. By testing a variety of skills, the system takes some of the focus off of training with the barbell and places it on exercises that will benefit a mature weightlifter.
  • Technique Development: Awarding technique points gives coaches and youth lifters an incentive to polish technique, rather than just focus on strength building. “It [also] allows kids who cannot lift as heavy to compete against more seasoned lifters,” explains John Attilo, head of Youth Weightlifting in Rhineland-Pfalz, Germany. “It motivates kids and coaches to pursue the best technique possible.”
  • Gentler on Young Athletes: I watched a five year-old compete in his first competition.  He had a noticeable press-out on the snatch.  But . . . he was five.  Rather than giving the child a red light and sending him away in tears, the judge gave him a white light and just deducted points for poor technique.

Could the German system be implemented in the United States?  Maybe Not . . .

  • No Standardized System for Technique: It would be very difficult to implement the German system in the United States. The United States does not have a standardized system of weightlifting technique. Each coach teaches the technical methods he or she prefers. Without a standardized system, it would be impossible to score lifts for technique.
  • Overhaul of Referee Training: Currently, USA Weightlifting trains referees to spot errors that would disqualify a lift, such as a press out in the jerk, or rolling the bar up the arms in the clean. It would require much more training to teach referees to discern smaller points of technique, such as yanking the bar off the ground or lifting the hips too early in the snatch.

Maybe So . . .

  • Cutting Edge: Since Phil Andrews became CEO of USA Weightlifting, the organization has transformed from a small, dated sport to a vibrant presence on the world stage. Over the past few years, USA Weightlifting has implemented athlete stipends, athlete development camps, and other tools geared specifically toward producing more elite weightlifters. Clearly, USA Weightlifting is not afraid to tackle big changes in pursuit of a better program.

If the United States did adopt a youth program similar to that in Germany, benefits could include:

  • Greater Longevity in the Sport: Burnout is a big issue in youth weightlifting. Many talented youth weightlifters never reach their full potential because they quit too early. Perhaps one reason for this is that weightlifting training is repetitive and involves only a handful of movements: clean, jerk, snatch, pulls, presses, and squats. Broadening the spectrum of exercises to include ball throwing, sprinting, jumping, etc., could keep kids interested in the sport for longer. Plus, these exercises are fun for kids.
  • Improved Coaching: U.S.A. Weightlifting could contribute to better coaching through standardized technique. Due to the recent increased popularity of youth weightlifting, many new and relatively inexperienced coaches are training kids. The upside is that new talent is constantly entering the sport, increasing the potential number of elite weightlifters. The downside is that these new coaches could use some guidance. A standardized system of technique could provide this.

In the Shoes of an Olympian

Youth Weightlifting Abby Flickner Interview

Abby Flickner, of Shawnee Kansas is your typical 13-year old girl. She loves to read, play the trumpet, and train in weightlifting shoes given to her by Olympian Morghan King. Ok, Abby is not so typical. She has been weightlifting since she was six-years old, has her own athletic clothing line, and holds three Youth American Records. Here is a glimpse into her life . . .

Q: How did you get started in weightlifting?

A: My older brother had been weightlifting for a while, and I thought it would help me get stronger for gymnastics. Eventually, I gave up my other sports—gymnastics, softball, and volleyball to focus exclusively on weightlifting.

Q: What do you enjoy most about weightlifting?

A: Weightlifting offers some good life lessons. If you don’t focus on your lift, it won’t be very good. Similarly, if you don’t focus on homework, you won’t get a good grade. And if you don’t focus on the task at hand, you won’t succeed.

Q: What does your training schedule look like?

A: I train two hours per day, six days a week with my coach, Boris Urman, at Bootcamp Fitness.

Q: What one or two things do you do in training that are particularly impactful?

A: Squats and lower back training! It’s easy to get a heavy barbell off the floor, but you have to have strong legs and a strong core to stand up with it.

Q: What do you carry around in your gym bag that has nothing to do with weightlifting?

A: Candy

Q: What is your diet like?

A: I try to eat as much as I can to move up a weight class. I eat lots of protein, fruit and veggies. I usually eat two suppers, one before gym and one after. I also like to eat candy!

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

A: Morghan King. She accomplished a lot in a very short amount of time, and she has been supportive of my lifting. She gave me the shoes I wear in training!

Q: What qualities does a great coach possess?

A: A great coach isn’t afraid to tell you what you’ve done wrong. Weight-lifting can be a dangerous sport if you don’t do it correctly.

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

A: Don’t worry about what weight is on the bar . . . just lift it.

Q: Did you take this advice?

A: I try, but it’s hard not to think about the weight.

Q: When you are not weightlifting, how do you spend your free time?

A: I like to read, ride my bike and play the trumpet. I would also like to learn how to cook.

Q: When was the last time you were knocked down and how did you get back up?

A: Youth Nationals in 2016. It was the first time I had been beaten in three years. I’m still in the process of recovering, but I’ve made progress.

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

A: Anything you want to achieve requires hard work and a good mindset.

Q: Where does your strength come from?

A: Some of it comes naturally, but mostly it comes from training hard.

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.

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.