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J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Jul 1. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003239. [Epub ahead of print]

Early Sport Specialization in Elite Weightlifters: Weightlifting Injury Occurrence and Relevant Opinions.

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Department of Sports Medicine, WellSpan Health, York, Pennsylvania.


Bush, CM, Wilhelm, AJ, Lavallee, ME, and Deitch, JR. Early sport specialization in elite weightlifters: weightlifting injury occurrence and relevant opinions. J Strength Cond Res XX(X): 000-000, 2019-Sports specialization has been associated with increased injury and burnout. This study sought to determine the age, rate of injury, influence to specialize, and opinions surrounding the impact of sports specialization in attainment of elite-level weightlifting status. A link to an anonymous survey was distributed to the top 20 weightlifters in each weight class (8 male and 7 female weight classes). The survey questioned athletes about both age and motivation to specialize, previous injuries and/or surgeries, and level of competition. Injuries and surgeries were compared between those who specialized at the Youth level (≤age 16), Junior level (ages 17-20), and nonspecialized weightlifters. One hundred forty-one athletes (47.0%) completed the survey. Sixteen participants (11.3%) specialized at the Youth level, 18 (12.8%) specialized at the Junior level, and the remaining 107 (75.9%) did not specialize before age 21. There was a statistically significant difference in the occurrence of injury before age 21 between weightlifters specializing at the Youth level and those who did not specialize (Χ(1) = 22.4, p < 0.0001). There were no statistically significant differences in serious injury after age 21 between groups. Weightlifters cited primarily themselves (45.4%) or coach (43.1%) as a driving influence to specialize. The majority of athletes (68.8%) felt that specializing during the Youth age group was not necessary to achieve elite status. Despite a relatively small sample size, injuries occurred more frequently in weightlifters specializing at younger ages, suggesting that risks associated with early sport specialization also apply to weightlifters. These risks should be considered before implementing an early specialization training regimen.

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