We’ve all seen it on Instagram: young kids lifting well over their weight in a cross-fit gym. Should we cringe or applaud?
History says to cringe, but science says to give a standing ovation.
We agree with science. Here’s why.
Way Back When Science Disagreed
Over 30 years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a public statement cautioning youth weight lifting.
They specifically stated, “… children and adolescents should avoid the practice of weight lifting, power lifting, and body building, as well as the repetitive use of maximal amounts of weight in strength training programs…” (4)
The recommendation was to wait until the child was at least 15 years old.
Since their statement, there have been numerous studies investigating their statement.
When Did Science Change Its Mind About Youth Weightlifting?
Studies were already challenging the AAP’s stance on the matter in the early 1990s.
In fact, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published a study as early as 1994 negating claims that weightlifting was unsafe for children. The stated that weightlifting might even be “safer than most other sports.” (3)
Soon after, in 1996, Strength and Conditioning also announced their position on youth weightlifting. They supported it so long as it was supervised and instructed. (2)
For almost as long as the AAPs statement advocating against youth weightlifting, the research advocating for it has piled up.
So much so that the AAP made a 180-degree turn on the subject. Their most recent public statement from 2020 says the complete opposite of their statement from 30 years ago:
“Since that original statement [30 years ago], a mountain of data has accumulated regarding the importance of appropriate strength, or resistance, training in children and adolescents…” (5)
Their new resistance training guidelines bring up a good point:
“Previous concerns regarding resistance training focused on what would happen if a child lifts weights, but more recent focus has turned toward what will happen if a child does not lift weights…” (5)
Even 1-rep max testing is completely safe under proper instruction. And that’s pretty tough.
So, it’s official. The benefits of early resistance training far outweigh any risks, so long as it’s supervised and coached.
What Does Weightlifting Offer Youth Soccer Players?
Weightlifting offers many benefits to young athletes and non-athletes alike.
For young soccer players, it’s a fantastic idea to incorporate resistance training and weightlifting because of the following reasons: (5)
- Improved neural development: Young players who learn proper technique and foundational movement patterns, then add load, will improve how their muscles are wired to the brain. It’s like creating a smarter body.
- Performance enhancement: Naturally, of course! Young players who incorporate resistance training into their endurance training, like distance running, improve their max oxygen uptake. Resistance training also shows improvements in power as seen in vertical jump and sprint testing.
- Prehabilitation: One of the major benefits of resistance training is injury prevention. This is especially true with implementation of balance and plyometrics (jumping/landing mechanics) when performed with proper instruction.
But What About the Risks?
Of course there are risks to any physical activity.
But, when you compare the risks and benefits of resistance training and weightlifting, the benefits FAR outweigh the risks.
Here are two of the most common arguments against resistance training with countering evidence. Much of this dialogue references information straight from AAP’s updated resistance training guidelines. (5)
“Kids can get hurt lifting heavy weights”
Yes, they can, especially if they haven’t progressed appropriately. But isn’t this also true for adults?
Actually, we could argue that this is more true in adults. Some kids have better movement capacity and adaptability than us old farts.
What makes us adults think we’re more physically qualified to lift anything heavy relative to our weight? Serious question.
No matter the age, there are rules to increasing load.
If anybody is receiving professional instruction on progressively heavier lifting with good technique, injury is less likely to happen.
“Weightlifting can stunt growth”
There’s no good evidence to support this.
High-level evidence within the past decade do not show any risk factors in growth stunting if the training program is well designed.
A poorly-designed training program could increase risk of an avulsion fracture near growth plates, but this is a rare exception.
One way avulsion injuries can happen is during explosive contractions of tendons close to growth plates, which causes the bony tendon attachment to break off. Explosive contractions involve running, jumping, sprinting…
…which is actually more like playing a soccer game, right?
Following that logic, we might as well properly train those tendons to handle progressive loads and decrease the risk of that happening during a game.
Resistance Training is Safe for Youth Soccer Players. In Fact, It’s Recommended.
It’s okay to resistance train as a young athlete, and young soccer players should be incorporating it.
Weightlifting, power lifting, Olympic lifting… it’s all a-okay and backed by the wisdom of science.
If you haven’t already, find a coach (hint, hint… Coach Nicole) who can instruct you on foundational movements and start progressing you into resistance training.
Your success and longevity in soccer, or any sport, counts on it.
- Faigenbaum, Avery D., and Chris Polakowski. “Olympic-style weightlifting, kid style.” Strength & Conditioning Journal 21.3 (1999): 73.
- Faigenbaum, A., W. Kraemer, B. Cahill, J. Chandler, J. Dziados, L. Elfrink, E. Forman, M. Gaudiose, L. Micheli, M. Nitka, and S. Roberts. Youth resistance training: Position statement paper and literature review. Strength Conditioning. 18:62–75. 1996.
- Hamill, Brian P. “Relative Safety of Weightlifting and Weight Training.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 8, no. 1, 1994, pp. 53–57., https://doi.org/10.1519/00124278-199402000-00008.
- LaBotz, Michele. “Don’t Resist Resistance and Strength Training in Children .” Publications.aap.org, 2020.
- Stricker, Paul R., et al. “Resistance Training for Children and Adolescents.” American Academy of Pediatrics, vol. 145, no. 6, June 2020, https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2020-1011.