The Effects of Weightlifting on the Youth Physique


Misconceptions about weightlifting

Weightlifting is a sport which is plagued by a number of misconceptions in the eyes of the public not least the involvement of the young in our sport. The mere mention of a young boy entering into the sport conjures up a vision of this poor boy struggling and straining away with huge weights, going purple in the face and breaking every bone in his body. Despite the objections of so many unknowledgeable people, tens of thousands of boys, and now girls, enter into the sport of weightlifting e very year the world over, many of them in their early teens. The injury record in weightlifting compares very favourably with most sports and can be said to be much safer than many sports that are taught as part of the physical education curriculum and that we allow our children to play without a second thought.

Myths recently dispelled

Before puberty, children are not capable of making significant strength gains due to lack of hormones. Several recent studies by nationally recognised researchers have reported significant strength gains as a result of weight-training among pre-pubes cent boys and girls.(e.g. Sewall & Micheli, 1986; Weltman et al, 1986; Servedio et al,1985). These studies also found that weight-training/weightlifting did not lead necessarily to a loss of flexibility when combined with stretching exercises. Weltman et al., 1986, also reported evidence that children’s motor performance ( jumping) can be improved by strength training. Duda, 1986, reported little direct evidence that supervised training with weights is unsafe for children. Close supervision is clearly necessary.

What is a good age to start weightlifting?

A recent phenomenon in world weightlifting is that juniors are now winning senior world titles and moreover breaking senior world records. It takes 7 – 8 years to achieve this standard and the practise of beginning specialised training at the age o f 11 – 12 is widespread. This is in keeping with many other sports where earliness is thought to be a necessity because of benefits such as increased motor learning, flexibility and growth which is experienced as such ages. It is common in Australia for lifters to start in their first and second years in high school (between 12 and 14). With one or two year’s training experience they can compete very favourably at National Schoolboy and Youth Championships and this is a very important incentive . At such an age they have fewer distractions and are more malleable. We now see fewer than 10% of Australian lifters continue to the age of 25 years which is quite a dramatic change from only a decade ago.

What are the dangers to the young? Growth graph (3K GIF)

It would be wrong to suggest that there are no dangers to the young lifter but I would suggest that such dangers are no more than most sports and considerably less than some. The main concern in the early days is dealing with the final growth spurt which takes place between the ages of 14 -15 in boys and earlier in girls. The phenomenon of “growing pains” is quite real and for those afflicted it usually means the cessation of all physical training activities, including physical education, for a period often as long as six months and sometimes longer than a year. The most common “growing pain” is Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease and involves the insertion of the patellar tendon onto the tibia (shin bone). The growing end plates of the bones a re soft and where there are tendons attached there is potential for some tearing of tendon fibres away from the bone. Whilst this can be quite painful it disappears with the cessation of growth with no lasting effects. It must be stressed that this affliction is not specific to weightlifting but found right across the spectrum of sports. All coaches in all sports should be on the look out for this condition and similar conditions involving the Achilles tendon insertion on to the heel, the growing end plates of the spine and occasionally the upper ends of the thigh bone.

What is suitable training for the 11 -12 year old?

Task Minutes

Communication of Tasks 5

Walking with variants
Easy running with variants
Exercises with small weights (1-3Kg)
Imitation of technical exercises with a metal bar of 8-10Kg 15-20

Learning the snatch pull 6-8 repetitions 5 sets
Learning the clean tech
Gymnastic exercises
Exercises at rib stalls
Ground Gymnastic exercises
Standing long jumps with both feet (3 jumps, 6-8 sets)
Relay race with medicine ball 60

Exercises of relaxation and rest 5

Though specific training for weightlifting may commence at the age of 11-12 the training is not similar to that experienced by the 14-15 year old. Coaches should devote considerable time to the general physical development of the athlete stimulating the nervous system,musculo-skeletal system, the cardiovascular system, lung function and other organs. In addition a wide variety of exercises and activities promotes general body co-ordination and maintains interest high. The following table illustrates that specific weightlifting training for the 11 -12 year old is not severe.


A final word on the youth, growth patterns and weightlifting is about the practise of lifters making weight for competition. From time to time it can be observed that young lifters repeatedly reduce bodyweight in order to win competitions. Over a period of a year or more we fail to see a change in bodyweight category for some lifters. Whilst it is understandable to reduce very occasionally for important competitions, both coach and lifter must take advantage of the growing years and to repeatedly reduce to particular bodyweight category will not be beneficial in the long term. The following shows bodyweight and performance growths of two of our well known lifters.

Philip Christou Born 1970

Year Age B/W Total Progress B/W Increase
of Total
1982 12
1983 13 52 157.5
1984 14 56 160 2.5 4.0?
1985 15 67.5 235 75 11.5?
1986 16 75 282.5 47.5 7.5
1987 17 77.8 302.5 20 2.8
1988 18 82.1 315 12.5 4.3
1989 19 82.8 335 20 -0.1

Steven Kettner Born 1969

Year Age B/W Total Progress B/W Increase
of Total
1982 13
1983 14 90 180
1984 15 90 220 40 ?
1985 16 106.7 297.5 77.5 16.7
1986 17 115.2 325 27.5 8.5
1987 18 124.95 360 35 9.75
1988 19 127.65 385 25 2.75
1989 20 134.0 377.5 6.35
1980 21

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