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How early can you specialize in weightlifting and still be safe in terms of injuries

Summary of an article investigating how the age of specialization influences the risk of injuries in elite weightlifters.

Who

141 (female: 98, male: 43) elite weightlifters aged 27.9 (±6.07) years (USA). The athletes had to be top 20 in their weight category (female: 7, male: 8 weight classes).

Design

Online survey (multiple choice and open-ended questions).

Outcome measures

  • injuries and surgeries which required taking a year or more away from weightlifting
  • age of specialization (age group at which the athlete stopped playing other sports)
  • who decided on specialization

Main results

  • Out of 141 elite weightlifters:
    • 16 (11%) specialized during the Youth age group (mean age of specialization 13.4 (±2.58))
    • 18 (13%) specialized during the Junior age group (mean age of specialization 17.4 (±2.21))
    • 107 (78%) did not specialize before 21.
  • Who decided to specialize:
    • athlete 59 (45%)
    • coach 56 (43%)
  • Serious injury or surgery before the age of 21 was reported by 8 (6%) athletes: 5 specialized at the Youth age group, 1 specialized as a Junior, and 2 did not specialize by 21. The difference between the proportion of injured athletes in Youth and the nonspecialized groups was statistically significant.
  • Serious injury or surgery after the age of 21 was reported by 17 (12%) athletes: 2 specialized at the Youth age group, 4 socialized as Junior, and 11 did not specialize by 21. No statistically significant difference.
  • 69% of athletes thought that it was not necessary to specialize in the Youth age group to achieve an elite level, but 41% of athletes felt that specialization at the Junior age was necessary.

Take home message

For a clinician
Those specializing at the Youth age level had more injuries before 21 than athletes who did not specialize before the age 21. For injuries sustained after the age of 21 there was no difference between specialization age.
For a parent
Specializing in weightlifting at the Youth level (between the ages of 8 and 16) may lead to more injuries before the age 21.
For an athlete
If you are a weightlifter, do not specialize early. It may lead to more injuries before you are 21 years of age.

Original article

Bush CM, Wilhelm AJ, Lavallee ME, Deitch JR. Early Sport Specialization in Elite Weightlifters: Weightlifting Injury Occurrence and Relevant Opinions. Journal of strength and conditioning research. 2019 Jul.

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