man deadlifting in gym

You’ve probably heard the idea that lifting weights is risky and inevitably leads to injuries. The claim makes sense at first glance because lifting heavy weights puts stress on your body.

But how valid is the claim, truly? Do we put ourselves at risk by lifting? And if so, how high is the risk, especially compared to other sports?

Let’s dig in to find out.

Is Weight Training a Risky Sport?
Let’s look at some data to answer this question. In one paper from 2020, researchers surveyed 4,785 men and 542 women in the U.S. army. Over 12 months, 4.5 percent of men and 0.6 percent of women experienced a weight training injury. Researchers calculated the injury occurrence at 0.31 for men and 0.05 for women per 1,000 hours of practice.

Unsurprisingly men were more likely to get injured than women, likely due to various factors, such as trying to lift more weight. Still, even with that in mind, the risk of injury was relatively low. Out of every 100 men that lifted weights, only four had some form of an injury in a year.

Another paper from 2017 looked at the rates of injury across multiple weight training sports. The researchers took data from numerous studies they deemed unbiased. Across the board, bodybuilding had the lowest injury risk at 0.24 to one injury per 1,000 hours of practice. Strongmen had the highest risk of injury, with an estimated 4.5 to 6.1 injuries per 1,000 hours of training.

The findings in the 2017 paper make sense because bodybuilding revolves around training with lighter weights, typically under controlled conditions (e.g., using gym machines). In contrast, strongmen lift enormous loads and use awkward weights (like stones) that increase the risk of mistakes that could lead to an injury. Plus, using heavier loads places more stress on joints, muscles, and connective tissues.

How Does Weight Training Compare to Other Sports?
Weight training seems quite dangerous at first glance. But the truth is, many seemingly safer sports carry a much higher risk of injury. Take, for example, basketball. According to a paper from over a decade ago, the injury rate was calculated at 9.8 per 1,000 hours of practice. The risk is roughly double what strongmen experience and 10 to 40 times the risk bodybuilders assume.

The same is also true for other sports, including football, ice hockey, and volleyball.

Lifting weights seems dangerous because athletes force themselves to move tremendous loads. But what many people forget is that weight training is a controlled form of physical activity where trainees follow a specific set of rules. So long as athletes adhere to best practices, gradually increase the load they lift, and always prioritise proper form, the risk of an injury is minor.

Aside from that, having regular deload weeks, changing movements from time to time, and warming up well before each session further reduce the risk of acute and overuse injuries.

November 26, 2021 — Daniel Felstein

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