Is Weight Training Bad for Youth Athletes?
by Ian McPherson
One of the biggest discussions when it comes to youth athletes is how old should an athlete be before they start a weight training program. Numerous medical journals and associations have been stating for several decades that resistance training and weight training for pre-adolescent children, even some adolescent children, is damaging to their development/growth. Additionally, these same groups have gone on to state that young athletes participating in these programs and activities are at an increasingly higher risk of injury than they would be playing their favorite sport/activity.
For some of you, it’s hard to imagine that a young athlete is more likely to get injured during weight training than in hockey, football, or even basketball these days. While we put a lot of trust into these medical journals and association to educate us properly, they’re missing some key information and data to back these statements. Today we want to re-educate you on training for you athletes to address the injury risk, impacts of stunted growth in young athletes who do weight training, and the benefits of weight training for young athletes.
Addressing the Negative Perception
Usually when we associate injury with weight training, we think of horrible video compilations from YouTube with people doing ridiculous amounts of weight that they had no business in lifting or being crushed by the bar or whatever machine they’re using. While these situations do occur, the reality is that weight training injuries are actually one of the lowest percent of injuries compared to any major sport out there.
According to a study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Olympic Weight Training and resistance training for athletes between the ages of 9 and 25 showed to have an injury rate of 2.4 injuries per 1,000 hours of training/participation (1). When we compare that to other sports like football (8.5 injuries per 1,000 hours of training/participation), baseball (2.8 injuries per 1,000 hours of training/participation), basketball (4.8 injuries per 1,000 hours of training/participation), and soccer (5.7 injuries per 1,000 hours of training/participation), the evidence is clear that its equal or far less likely than some of the more popular sports today (2,3).
To further back these statements, most injuries that occur during weight training happen when athletes are not using proper technique, not following a designed program from a certified coach/trainer, and are not being closely monitored by a trained professional.
Will lifting weights at too young of an age stunt my athlete's growth?
Next, many individuals like to associate stunted growth or damaging growth plates when it comes to youth athletes participating in weight training programs. While this seems like a logical thought assuming that putting external resistance and force on the body repeatedly would compresses the body in many ways, there isn’t any evidence to hold up these statements. According to a University of Connecticut study showed that a group of 25 youth and high school athletes performing Olympic lifting programs actually increased both bone mineral density as well as strength. The findings prove to show that due to the controlled programming of overload training athletes were able to adapt to the training methods to increase strength without damaging growth plates or injuring themselves (4).
Benefits of Youth Strength Training
Lastly, we wanted to hit on a few of the benefits that are result of youth athletes participating in weight training programs. As previously cited, athletes are more likely to increase strength while increase bone density in a controlled weight training plan (4).
Additionally, athletes who train are less likely to get injured in their sport as well as have the ability to recover faster compared to those who do not weight train regularly. Not to mention, the injuries that did happen to athletes who did regular strength training were only out an average of 2.8 days of activity/sport vs. 4.8 days (5).
Therefore, it’s not hard to see that weight training for youth athletes can have a ton of upside. Keeping our athletes stronger, faster, and healthy for their entire season makes a huge impact on their development in the sport as well as their ability to enjoy what they do!
So is weight training bad for my youth athlete?
In closing, there are a lot myths and negativity surrounding weight training programs for youth athletes. And yes, while there are risks, the biggest factor comes down to the programming, technique, and supervision in which youth athlete is participating in. Additionally, we stress that with youth athletes they must have the cognitive ability to understand the concept of training and that there is purpose behind what they are doing. It’s not just a time for them to screw around with friends or be a social hub for them.
We pride ourselves here at Starters for adhering to these standards to ensure athletes have a great experience when training with us and actually enjoy their training program. So parents, PLEASE do your due diligence and get involved in your athletes off-season or general training programs, whether they are picking up a weight for the first time or they are transitioning into a high school-based program that may be completely foreign to them.
Starters Performance is continually taking in new athletes to get them started in a training program tha will help them achieve their individual goals, if you have any questions or you are interested in learning more information regarding the strength training at Starters, please contact our Director of Performance, Ian McPherson, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Additoinally, you can learn more about all of our perfomance programs by visiting our website at www.startersperformance.com
Cited Sources used in this blog:
- Aasa U, Svartholm I, Andersson F, et al. Br J Sports Med 2017;51:211–220.
- Youth Football Injuries: A Prospective Cohort - Andrew R. Peterson, MD, MSPH*, Adam J. Kruse, MS, Scott M. Meester, BS, Tyler S. Olson, BS, Benjamin N. Riedle, MS, Tyler G. Slayman, MD, Todd J. Domeyer, MD, Joseph E. Cavanaugh, PhD, M. Kyle Smoot, MD
- Incidence and Distribution of Pediatric Sport-Related Injuries Dennis Caine, PhD,* Caroline Caine, PhD, and Nicola Maffulli, MD, MS, PhD†
- Conroy BP, Kraemer WJ, Maresh CM, et al. Bone mineral density in elite junior olympic weightlifters. Medicine and Science In Sports and Exercise. 1993:1103-1109
- Hejna W, Rosenberg A, Buturusis D, & Krieger A. The prevention of sports injuries in high school students through strength training. Natl Strength Cond Assoc J. 1982. 4:28-31