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.

 

SaveSave

Is There a Viable Alternative to the NCAA for Weightlifting?

I recently wrote an article entitled: “Is Weightlifting Losing Its Best Athletes to NCAA Sports?”  The article exposes a problem facing the sport of weightlifting in the U.S. today: Thousands of youth weightlifters enter the sport of weightlifting, but the majority of these weightlifters leave the sport before they reach maturity, making it difficult for the U.S. to produce elite, world-class weightlifters.

One explanation for the loss is that college weightlifting programs—and scholarships—are not as readily available as those in other sports.  Plus, plenty of other sports offer scholarships to weightlifters, reducing the pool of athletes from which the U.S. could generate mature athletes.  While it is wonderful to have child superstars within a sport, the true measure of a country’s dominance in a sport is its ability to produce world-class athletes in their prime.

One solution to this problem would be to petition the NCAA for membership and continue working with the organization until it adopts weightlifting as one of its regulated sports. The NCAA and its member colleges and universities together award $2.7 billion in athletic scholarships every year to more than 150,000 student-athletes.  Membership in the NCAA could open doors to more college weightlifters, encourage youth athletes to remain in the sport, and bridge the gap between the developmental years and maturity within the sport.

According to Phil Andrews, CEO of USA Weightlifting, however, membership in the NCAA is not likely to happen in the near future.  Andrews explains: “USA Weightlifting has been working on establishing a relationship with the NCAA for a number of years.  However, the NCAA has zero interest in adding men’s weightlifting and only a small amount of interest in adding women’s weightlifting.”

NCAA membership also would come with a cost.  Vance Newgard, head coach of the Olympic Training Site at Northern Michigan University points out:

  • The NCAA imposes numerous requirements on the schools, athletes and coaches that receive funding from the organization.
  • The NCAA regulates financial aid, eligibility, recruiting, athletics personnel, playing and practice seasons.
  • Under NCAA regulation, coaches are limited as to when and how much they can train their athletes.
  • Athletes are limited as to how much they can train.  An athlete desiring to reach the Olympic level can not simultaneously receive NCAA funding and train as much as needed to achieve success.
  • Coaches are limited as to program promotion and recruitment of younger athletes.
  • In short, the benefits of NCAA membership—namely scholarship money for student athletes—may not be worth the costs.

Given that NCAA membership may not be desirable—or even available—for the sport of weightlifting at this time, there may be other solutions for retaining youth weightlifters through their college years including the following:

A Private Scholarship Fund

USA Weightlifting could create a scholarship fund to help collegiate weightlifters continue with the sport while simultaneously getting a college degree.  This is, in fact, something that USA Weightlifting is currently considering.

PROS:

  • USA Weightlifting has the right membership demographics to support a college fund.  Of the 27,000 members registered with USA Weightlifting, the majority are Masters lifters.  Masters lifters (age 35+) presumably have some disposable income—otherwise they wouldn’t have the luxury of participating in the sport.  These members may be convinced to support talented weightlifters in their college years.
  • Giving specifically to a college weightlifters has “donation appeal.” People are more likely to give money to individuals to achieve specific goals than to blindly hand money over to an organization.  If donors know they are helping certain weightlifters with college expenses, it would personalize the process and encourage larger donations.
  • Giving to education charities is popular.  According to Giving USA, 15% of charitable donations made in 2016 were used to fund education.  This made education second only to religion in receiving charitable funding.
  • Control of the sport could be maintained by USA Weightlifting.  Without accountability to the NCAA, coaches and athletes could train to maximize athletic success.  Presumably, athletes would be required to meet some academic standards to continue receiving their scholarships.  However, both coaches and the athletes would have more flexibility in their training.

CONS:

  • Not as many athletes could be funded by a private scholarship fund.  A private scholarship fund might be able to assist a dozen athletes with college expenses, but an NCAA affiliation could assist hundreds of athletes.
  • Scholarship amounts may not be as large.  A private scholarship fund could not match the resources of the NCAA and its member schools.  Coach Newgard, however, points out that most college athletes receive only partial scholarships anyway.  So, athletes may be equally benefited by private scholarship funding—especially since it would not bind them to NCAA compliance.

Centralized Training Sites

Centralized training of college-age weightlifters could also solve the problem of athlete retention.  Coach Newgard is a proponent of this solution and offers the following points in support of the idea:

PROS:

  • Optimal Coaching: If a handful of experienced coaches could devote themselves full-time to grooming and developing a group of elite athletes, they could maximize the athletes’ performance.
  • Competitive Environment: When elite athletes work together, they push each other to work harder.  So, bringing elite athletes together for training would also enhance athletic performance.
  • Economies: Paying for a single facility and group of coaches could be more cost effective for USA Weightlifting than awarding stipends to individuals.

CONS: 

  • Money.  Let’s be honest, if USA Weightlifting had the money to fund a central facility, pay the salaries of a team of elite coaches, and pay the living expenses of the athletes, they would probably do it.  USA Weightlifting was afforded this luxury with a resident training program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs until September 2016.  However, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has since stopped offering a resident program for the sport of weightlifting at the Olympic Training Center.  Procuring another central training location may not be feasible for USA Weightlifting.
  • Finding the right location may be difficult.  For most individuals in their early twenties, their first priority is getting an education or job training.  Weightlifting is fun, but athletes know that it likely will not support them in later years.  So, any central training facility should be located in an area with numerous job/education options for these athletes.
  • Coach Resistance.  Coaches who have developed elite weightlifters from a young age may not want to turn these athletes over to another team of coaches.  After all, these coaches have invested much energy and time into the athletes and want to continue building upon their success.  Similarly, elite athletes who have developed good relationships with their coaches may not want to terminate these relationships.

In conclusion, youth weightlifters should not feel discouraged about the NCAA’s disinterest in our sport.  Weightlifting is a rapidly growing sport, so future inclusion is always a possibility.  In the meantime, lifters and coaches can enjoy the sport free from the demands of NCAA compliance.

For more information on opportunities for developing athletes, see:

Understanding USA Weightlifting’s Stipend System

Youth Weightlifting Scholarship Opportunities

Photography by Matthew Bjerre of Lifting.Life at 2017 USAW National Junior Championship.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

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.

____________________________________________________________________________

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.

_________________________________________________________

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.

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.

 

____________________________________________________________________________

 

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

 

_________________________________________________________________________

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!

____________________________________________________________________________

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.