Relative Safety of Weightlifting

kids-safety-weightliftingOne of the points I touched on in my post on the myth of kids and weightlifting was the relative safety of weightlifting as compared to other common childhood athletic pursuits.  This is counter to the common belief that lifting, especially for children, is a dangerous activity.  The table below is a subset of the results from a survey-based study [1] that evaluated injury rates in school athletic programs.

 

 

SportInjuries / 100 Participation Hours
Soccer6.20
Squash0.10
Football0.10
Gymnastics0.044
Basketball0.03
Weight Training0.0035
Powerlifiting0.0027
Weightlifting0.0017
Volleyball0.0013
Tennis0.001

 

Before discussing the results, there are a few study-specific definitions to get out of the way.

 

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Weightlifting: is defined as competition in the snatch and clean & jerk as well as associated weight training.

Weight Training: is defined as progressive resistance training with free weights and machines.

Powerlifting: encompasses both the sport of powerlifting (competition in squat, bench press and deadlift with associated weight training) and bodybuilding (weight training designed to maximize hypertrophy for aesthetic effect).

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Relative Injury Rates

The first thing that you’ll notice is the astoundingly low injury rate for weight training related activities, especially as compared to more common childhood sports such as soccer, football, basketball and gymnastics.  For instance, children are almost 60 times more likely to become injured playing football or squash than when performing cleans and snatches.  60x!

To build confidence in their findings, the study authors combed available scientific literature looking for evidence of higher injury rates than those revealed by their survey.  No such data could be located.

To me, another interesting data point from the study is that weightlifting was found to be safer than the more general activity of weight training.  Survey respondents reported double the injury rate for weight training as compared to weightlifting.

 

Why is Lifting so Safe?

The authors attribute the low injury rates in weightlifting, weight training and powerlifting to two factors:

  1. These activities are typically performed under the supervision of a qualified coach in an environment with a high coach-to-participant ratio.
  2. The nature of these activities require participants to pursue a gradual approach – light weights initially while learning proper technique, then scaling up as they improve.

 

Regardless of the reason, data from this study clearly demonstrate that training with weights is not nearly as dangerous to children as it is often depicted.  With that said, it’s important to keep in mind that kids should be supervised by coaches that have proper training and experience working specifically with children.

 

References

[1]  Hamill B. Relative safety of weight lifting and weight training. J Strength Cond Res. 1994; 8:53–7.

 

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