Youth Sports Profile: Powerlifting

Youth powerlifting - teen girl lifting barbell

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While not the same as Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting has its own set of devoted athletes and fans. It may seem simple: lift the most weight to win. But successful youth powerlifting requires dedication and attention to technique. Does your child have the power and passion for powerlifting?

What Is Powerlifting?

Powerlifters compete in three events, attempting to lift the heaviest weight in each. Competitions may include one, two, or all three events. For each, lifters make three attempts, and their best of those three (heaviest weight) becomes their score for that event.

  • Bench press: pushing a barbell up from the chest, while lying down with head, shoulders, and back on a bench
  • Deadlift: lifting a barbell from the floor, until the lifter is in a standing position with knees locked (the arms are straight, so the weight is at thigh level)
  • Squat: squatting down until thighs are parallel to the floor, with a barbell on the shoulders, and then returning to a standing position

Both male and female athletes compete in powerlifting, and athletes are categorized by sex, age, and body weight.

How the Sport Works

A mathematical formula called the Wilks formula is sometimes used in scoring. Each lifter is assigned a multiplier based on their ​body weight. Once all the athletes have performed their lifts, their totals are multiplied by this Wilks number. The competitor with the highest final figure is the winner.

  • Best for kids who are: Willing to train seriously and with attention to technique; persistent.
  • Season/when played: Can be year-round. High school competitions usually happen in winter and spring.
  • Skills needed/used: Strength, determination, focus.
  • Team or individual: Individual, but lifters can train together as a team to represent a school or club.

Levels

USA Powerlifting (USAPL) has youth levels for kids starting at age 8. They can then proceed through age-based levels up through Junior (age 20-23) before reaching the adult "Masters" category. Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) also has age-based groupings, as does the Natural Athlete Strength Association (NASA).

Age Kids Can Start

USA Powerlifting has divisions for kids 8 years old and up. AAU allows competitors as young as age 6. The International Sports Science Association says it is safe for kids to start weight training in a controlled, supervised manner as young as 5 years old.

If your child wants to start powerlifting (or any form of weight training), make sure to find a qualified instructor to supervise their training.

It's important that young lifters know how to lift safely, with proper technique, and that they develop strength in their core and shoulder muscles to protect their growing bodies.

Kids With Special Needs

Powerlifting can be appropriate for children with special needs, depending on the child's challenges. Powerlifters can compete in the Special Olympics and the Summer Paralympic Games. Some visually and physically disabled athletes compete in powerlifting meets against able-bodied competitors.

Fitness Factor

Powerlifting does not burn lots of calories like more cardiovascular exercise does. However, it strengthens muscles and bones, which is important for good health and overall fitness. Strength training goes hand-in-hand with cardio exercise to improve metabolism.

Equipment

Some powerlifters wear special supportive suits to help them perform; they compete in "equipped" events. Alternatively, lifters can wear a non-supportive singlet for "raw" or "non-equipped" events. Belts, shoes, wrist and knee straps are permitted in both kinds of events, although rules lay out detailed specifications for these items.

Costs

Membership in the USAPL (required to enter its meets) costs $25/year for youths and $40/year for teens. Lifters will need to buy their own suits, wraps, belts, and so on. A suit can range from $50 to over a hundred dollars; wraps and sleeves are in the $20-25 range; a basic belt starts at about $20.

Time Commitment Required

This will depend on the coach's or trainer's requirements and on the athlete's level of competition. Meets can last a few hours or a few days, including time for weighing in (up to 24 hours in advance of competition).

Potential for Injury

Medium. Powerlifting is not a contact sport, so traumatic injuries are less common. During training and competition, spotters and loaders are on hand to keep lifters safe. Paul Rogers, Verywell expert on weight training, says that overuse injuries are more typical (than traumatic injuries) in weight lifting.

Another concern in powerlifting is performance-enhancing drugs.

Young athletes may be tempted to use unsafe supplements or illegal drugs in order to build muscle. They need to know that this is dangerous and won't be tolerated in competition.

Because lifters must weigh in before competition and compete at a set weight level, "making weight" through unsafe methods is another risk parents should be aware of.

How to Find a Program or Event

The following groups can help connect you to local programs:

If your local high school has a powerlifting program (check its website), you can also contact the coaches there about how to get your child involved in youth powerlifting in your area. Or if you see a meet advertised, contact its director to find out about local trainers.

Governing bodies:

If your child likes powerlifting, also try football, rowing, wrestling, and track and field (field events).

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Article Sources
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