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Will doing squats fracture the spines of young athletes?

www.ironmanmagazine.comQ: What’s your opinion of the new study that suggests that squats can fracture the spines of young athletes?

A: That study was introduced at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the North American Spine Society—and to make certain the terrible news got out, the organization issued a press release titled “New Spine Research Urges Teens to Skip Squat Lifts in Weight Training.” Even so, it’s difficult for me to form a responsible opinion about a study if all we have to go on is an abstract and a press release.

Here is what I know. The study did not involve any before-and-after methodology—the researchers just looked at the biomechanics of the lift. It involved 20 individuals and used radiographic imaging to examine the alignment of the lumbar spine and pelvis when the subjects squatted. The researchers concluded that changes in posture during the squat may be associated with a pars interarticularis fracture, which is a fracture to a relatively weak bony structure that lies between the facet joints, a type of fracture that is considered very difficult to heal.

The study lacks cause-and-effect methodology and relies instead on the opinions of the researchers that the squat might be the cause of this type of fracture. In fact, lead researcher John McClellan, M.D., of the Nebraska Spine Center in Omaha said in one interview that he has seen more than 500 kids with pars fractures and “often they remember hurting themselves doing squats.”

Until the full study becomes available, I’ll stick with what most other studies have shown and what I know to be true: Weight training is the single best way to increase strength and prepare young athletes for competition.

Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most suc­cessful strength coaches, having coached Olympic med­alists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit IM

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