Mom, I Need New Shoes! Shoe Buying Tips for Youth Weightlifters

Child: “Mom, I need new shoes.”

Mom: “I just bought you new shoes.”

Child: “Well, they don’t fit any more.”

Mom: “I can’t buy you shoes this minute. You’ll just have to make those shoes work.”

It is likely that EVERY child and parent in modern history has had this conversation.

As a parent, it is annoying that kids’ feet grow so quickly. As a child, it is equally annoying that you have to get new shoes just when your old ones start to feel comfortable.  Like it or not, larger feet—and new shoes—are a part of growing up.  Normally, getting new shoes is not a big problem. Plenty of stores sell shoes—you just go into a store that sells the shoes you want, find a pair that fits, and then negotiate with your parents, who always try to talk you into the “cheap” shoes.

When it comes to weightlifting shoes, however, the solution is not so easy!

Weightlifting shoes are not ordinary athletic shoes. They have a raised heel, a hard, flat sole and straps. These features allow a weightlifter get into a deeper squat by permitting a greater range of motion in the ankle. They also provide better stability in the foot when standing up heavy weights.

Selecting weightlifting shoes can be a frustrating process.

    • At $100 to $200 a pair, weightlifting shoes are expensive.
    • Sporting goods stores do not carry weightlifting shoes, so you cannot simply go into a store, try on shoes, and find the pair that suits you.
    • You are going to be spending a LOT of time training in these shoes, so you want to get some that are comfortable and suit your lifting needs.

 

Selecting YOUTH weightlifting shoes offers additional challenges—

    • Youth athletes’ feet are constantly growing, which means you will probably need a new pair of lifting shoes every six months to a year.
    • Most weightlifting shoes are built for adult weightlifters, so finding a size that fits a youth lifter can be a challenge.

 

For starters, consider whether you actually NEED new weightlifting shoes . . .

    • Do you lift competitively? If you lift weights to build strength or as conditioning for another sport—or simply for recreation, you may not need weightlifting shoes. Weightlifting shoes provide stability for the feet; this stability becomes particularly noticeable with heavy weights. However, general strength building does not require maxing out with heavy weights. It can be accomplished with submaximal weights and higher repetitions. At lower weights, the benefits of a weightlifting shoe may not be noticeable.
    • Can you buy some used shoes? Ask around your gym. You might find another lifter who is willing to sell you their perfectly good, barely used shoes. Since you’ll probably grow out of the shoes in another 6 months to a year, save your parents some money and accept the used shoes! If it grosses you out to wear someone else’s sweaty shoes, replace the insole. Shoe insoles can be purchased at any drugstore for $10 or less.

If you really DO need new shoes, consider these pointers:

    • Buy a little larger than you need. You want your weightlifting shoes to fit snugly. However, you don’t want to buy new shoes every three months. You can fix this problem by buying a shoe that is a little larger than you need and then adding an extra insole to make the shoe smaller. When your feet grow, take out the extra insole, and your shoe will still fit. We use this trick regularly to extend the wearability of weightlifting shoes.
    • Read reviews! When it comes to weightlifting shoes, one shoe does not suit everyone. Some shoes are wider/narrower; some shoes have a higher heel; some shoes have multiple straps versus a single strap. Fortunately, there are thousands of customer reviews on weightlifting shoes. Find the shoe you are considering on Amazon, and start reading what real customers have to say about it! Read and research until you are confident the shoe is right for you. Keep in mind, however, that most of these reviews are written by and for adult weightlifters, so the review may not be as helpful for you. In the future, I will write an article reviewing weightlifting shoes available to youth lifters. Stay tuned.
    • Shop around. There are only a handful of weightlifting shoe retailers on the market. Start by looking at the manufacturer’s website. For instance, if you are searching for some Nike Romeleo 3s, look at the pricing on nike.com. From there, search other websites, such as Amazon, Eastbay, and Rogue. You can generally find shoes on sale if you search diligently. However, you should always consult the seller’s return policy before buying. You don’t want to get stuck with shoes that arrive too small with no way to return or exchange them!

Don’t love the shoes you have?

 

If you find that you don’t love the weightlifting shoes you purchase, you can return them and get something else, or . . .

    • Remember that you will grow out of them soon! In the course of your weightlifting career, you will own many shoes. Don’t obsess about the perfect shoe.  If it’s not just right this time, you can always purchase a different pair the next time.  My son, Hutch, spent a year wearing second-hand Adidas Powerlift shoes that he didn’t love. However, they only cost me $20, and I told him that he could pick his next pair of shoes. It was a win-win situation. I got out easy on Hutch’s shoes one year, and he got to pick the ones he liked the next year.
    • Training matters more than shoes. Fancy weightlifting shoes are fun. However, they won’t compensate for time in the gym. You will never hear someone win a major weightlifting championship and give the credit to their shoes.

 

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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.