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Is weightlifting in children safe?

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

By Emma Garrett, Physiotherapist, Olympic Weightlifter & Crossfit Coach



One question I frequently get asked while coaching is, is weightlifting in children safe? I often hear people say: “oh she's a kid, she can’t lift,” or “they’re a kid, so the weight is super light.” However, what does the research actually say? Let’s take a look.


What is strength training?


Strength training is defined as any variety of resistance training programs based on progress overload and designed to improve muscular strength and endurance. Historically, strength training is not recommended for prepubertal children as it’s considered ineffective due to hormonal differences and the risk of injury. Particularly, the main concerns were damage to growth plates, and premature closure of epiphyses (bones) because of excessive loads.


What sports does it include?


Strength training in children can take on a range of different forms, from basic resistance training in the gym with free weights and pin loaded machines, to more complex sports like crossfit kids. Crossfit kids is a growing area, where kids get involved in a range of disciplines including Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics and traditional cardio, with the option to even compete at a high level in the crossfit games teen division.


Children can also get involved in Olympic weightlifting (the snatch and the clean and jerk), where there’re multiple competitions across the year at a club, state, national and international level. Gymnastics contains more traditional variations of strength training, such as pull ups, dips and core exercises.


Is strength training in children safe?


Strength training is now considered a safe and effective means of developing strength in children and early adolescents, as long as it is undertaken in a supervised setting, with proper techniques and appropriate safety precautions.


Research has shown that strength training does not influence natural changes in weight and height that occur during development. Additionally, growth-plate injuries are rare and generally associated with improper technique and unsupervised activity, with none reported in prospective resistance training studies.


As shown in figure 1, the relative injury risk compared to other common school sports is relatively low. Of the injuries reported in the literature, the most common were lower back muscle strains, knee and shoulder pain.


Figure 1: Relative injury risks compared to other popular sports (Hamill, 1994)


Are there benefits to weightlifting in children?


Weightlifting in children has shown the following benefits:

  • Increase in global strength

  • Increase in muscle mass

  • Neural adaptation to strength training

  • Improved motor and sports performances

  • Improved bone mineral content

  • Improved body composition

  • Reduced risk of sporting injuries

  • Improved coordination

  • Improved leg power and explosiveness

Takeaway principles


Weightlifting in children has been shown to not only be safe, but also beneficial for athletic development, as long as a few basic principles are adhered to:

  1. supervision

  2. appropriate sleep and nutrition to support training load

  3. gradual increase in loading

  4. prioritize form and movement quality over load.

How can my child get involved?


To find out more visit the QLD weightlifting association website: https://www.qwa.org/ To find out your nearest club visit the link below: https://www.qwa.org/club-locator/


If you have any further questions or would like a tailored assessment and strength training plan for your child, please give us a call on 3061 7128.


References


Chaouachi, A. , Hammami, R. , Kaabi, S. , Chamari, K. , Drinkwater, E. , Behm, D. & (2014). Olympic Weightlifting and Plyometric Training With Children Provides Similar or Greater Performance Improvements Than Traditional Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28 (6), 1483-1496. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000305.


Hamill, B. Relative safety of weight lifting and weight training. J Strength Cond Res 8: 53–57, 1994.


Malina, R. & (2006). Weight Training in Youth-Growth, Maturation, and Safety: An Evidence-Based Review. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 16 (6), 478-487. doi: 10.1097/01.jsm.0000248843.31874.be.


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