How dangerous is it for children to lift weights?
Lifting weights/Strength training is not inherently dangerous. For either adults or children. The risk of injury while strength training for children is less than the risk of being injured or getting sick from not doing any strength exercises.
Of course, there is a chance of injury while using weights. One recent study followed secondary school-age rugby players over a season. It found that out of 750 players just 3 sustained injuries while using weights.
Another study looked at weight training injuries and found that 2 injuries occur for every 1000 hours of weight training done by children and teenagers. Injuries per 1000 hours is the standard measurement physios use for how common injuries are during particular sports.
To give you an idea of how favorably the risk of injury during strength training compares to other youth sports I’ll give you a few examples.
- 4 injuries in every 1000 hours of underage GAA training
- 61 injuries in every 1000 hours of underage GAA matches
- 50-60 injuries in every 1000 hours of schoolboy rugby
- 15-20 injuries in every 1000 hours of running for younger athletes
- 15 injuries in every 1000 hours of academy footballers from ages 9-18
GAA, football, rugby, and running are some of the most popular sports in this country. All of which have a higher incidence of injury than lifting weight does. Some parents may have reservations about some sports on safe ground. But, this is not general thinking. Most parents see playing sports as a safe and important part of their child’s development. Weights on the other hand carry a bad stigma. When not only is weight a very safe type of training but they also have massive benefits in reducing the chances of injury in other sports too.
What are the risks of injury during strength training?
While weight training is safe. There are of course some risks. But, for the most part, these risks are avoidable. Firstly, some of the causes of injury when younger athletes are strength training are preventable through common sense.
Often injuries are the result of an unsafe environment as opposed to the act of lifting weights being unsafe. Cluttered environments or poor layouts can cause injury when strength training.
The second issue that causes injuries while lifting weights is also preventable with a bit of common sense. Incorrect storage of equipment leads to injury a lot of the time. Incorrect storage can cause injuries in two ways. Firstly, poor storage and not maintaining equipment can lead to breaks of the equipment while in use leading to an injury. Incorrect storing of equipment also leads to injury in the weights room from falling on somebody or rolling out and causing a fall/trip.
The other risks of getting injured while weight lifting come from not having a coach or having a poor coach. The biggest injury risk with weights is around your programming.
- Does your program have too many training days?
- Is there too much weight?
- Does it focus on some areas of the body and neglect others?
- Are you using poor technique?
- Do you get enough rest?
- Does adding weight training fit into the rest of your training schedule?
These issues can be avoided by having a well-educated and experienced coach who is used to working with athletes of all ages. Having a professional strength coach for younger athletes is part of the 10 pillars of athletic development.
Pillars of long term athletic development
What are the pillars of long-term athletic development for young athletes and why are they important?
The pillars of long-term athlete development are a framework set out by the national council of strength and conditioning to outline the important things in regards to developing the athleticism of children and adolescents. This athleticism is not just about creating sports stars. Improving the athleticism of children helps to increase health and well-being while they are young and carrying into adulthood.
Long-term development is not linear. Everyone ages at different rates. Children will be at different levels of maturity at different stages. Therefore we cannot expect athletic development to follow the same time frame for everyone. As well as this, the development of each child within themselves will not be a linear increase in growth. There may be massive increases in speed or strength and then a drop-off and then an increase at another stage.
All children should engage in long-term athletic development. As we have consistently said and will continue to say; Athletic development isn’t just for being better at sports. Being stronger and fitter is great for health and well-being. Every child should do some form of exercise that promotes an increase in strength.
Focus at a young age should be on motor skills and strength. Building a foundation of good movement patterns and good strength are more important at a young age than sport-specific skill is. 8-11/12-year-olds before hitting puberty should be engaging in activities that are unstructured. These activities should focus on fundamental movement skills.
Variety of activity > early specialization. Ericsonn’s 10,000-hour rule can often lead to too much repetition at an early age in one sport. The thought is that doing 10,000 hours of practice is necessary to excel at one particular skill. This is not the case and in fact, early specialization has been shown to increase chances of burnout or overtraining.
Pillar 5, 6 & 7.
Health and well-being > sports performance. These three pillars are all very similar and can be summed up in one sentence. The focus should be on health and not being the best at a sport. Health and well-being should always be at the center of youth sports. Not only improving health but allowing children to flourish socially. Allow them to try multiple sports that train a wide variety of components of fitness. Children should also engage in activities that help to reduce their chances of injury.
Monitor your child. Of course, everyone keeps a keen eye on what their child is doing. But, you need to keep a keen eye out for overtraining or burnout. Burnout and overtraining can be seen in the physical and psychological responses of your children to training. Generally, a month or two before your children show physical symptoms, like loss of appetite or niggling injuries. They will show psychological signs of overtraining/burnout such as a dislike of the sport they used to love. Or even an obvious hatred for going to training.
Young athletes should have an individualized training program. In team settings, it’s easy to fire the same thing at everyone and hope for the best. But, there needs to be specificity to help young athletes flourish.
Use a professional approach. A lot of youth sports are possible because of the millions of volunteers throughout the country coaching. Many coaching has expertise in teaching, coaching, or even the sport they are coaching. But, rarely are they strength and conditioning experts. Getting professional help for youth athletes S&C is important to ensure they are getting the best benefit from their S&C but also that they are safe while strength training.