When is too young to lift twice your weight?
It's not everyday bystanders and pediatricians are struck with that kind of conundrum. Then again, there is nothing normal about 14-year-old Jake Schellenschlager.
The Washington Post's DeNeen L. Brown brings us the amazing story of this eighth-grader attempting to shatter records by lifting a ridiculous amount of weight.
To put things in perspective, Brown writes that, though the sport is gaining in popularity among younger athletes, there is no one around at the York Barbell Competition in York, Pa., to contest Schellenschlager in his age or weight class, 14- to 15-year-olds at 123 pounds respectively.
The young man wasn't simply content to merely lift weights and compete against his own strength, however. He reportedly spent the night before the competition working out in order to drop enough water weight to get down to the 114-pound category.
The 14-year-old seems to be a person who accomplishes what he demands of himself, but this time he would only whittle his weight to 119, a still-astounding feat.
If you are wondering why he would go to such lengths, Schellenschlager merely offers, "I was thinking if I would weigh in at 114, I could break records. Records are harder for the 123 class."
Nobody would ever dare say he took the easy road.
By the end of the day, this young boy who looks rail-thin next to other powerlifters was able to powerlift 205 pounds, squat 225 pounds and deadlift a whopping 300 pounds, more than double his weight.
According to the report, USA Powerlifting contends that the youngest lifters competing are 14. However, they do note that some programs accept kids as young as eight.
As for Schellenschlager, he fell in love with the sport when his father, Chris, began taking him to the gym when he was 12.
Chris is well aware of the dangers, but takes precautions with his still-growing boy:
You want to make sure they are doing proper form and not lifting too heavy. I know it’s bad on the joints with him still growing. Some don’t believe it is good to have kids weightlifting too early. But Jake never complains about pain or hurting, and he gets regular check-ups.
Schellenschlager's mother, Brandy, who is no longer married to Chris, explains that lifting is really like any athletic endeavor. "Lifting is a sport just like baseball," says the 39-year-old. "That’s how we view it."
Here is a video posted back in June of Schellenschlager in action; he is listed as 13 years old at the time.
Someone of that age dropping down and bringing back up racks of plates isn't something you see everyday. It's both beguiling and worrisome.
Brown did get some more information from experts, noting that the American Academy of Pediatrics is perfectly fine with strength training at the this age. However, the academy fully cautions against "powerlifting" while the body is maturing.
Paul Stricker is a fellow at the AAP as well as a youth sports medicine specialist at the Scripps Health Clinic in San Diego, Calif.
He contends that it's not the lifting, but the egregious amount of weight that poses a problem.
Powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting sports are different because they usually are involving maximum lifts—the squat, bench press and the dead lift.
There is high risk to heavy maximal lifts or explosive lifts during their rapid growth phrase...That is our biggest caution. We just don’t recommend they do maximal lifts or explosive lifts until they have finished the majority of their growth spurt...
On a slightly more personal level, I know my father discouraged me from tossing curveballs in Little League, afraid what that kind of twisting might do to my still maturing arm. A 2012 report from CNN's Paul Coran touched upon that very activity.
It seems the jury is still very much out on whether the curve has any real propensity to ruin young arms. What Coran found is that the amount a child throws is far worse.
At least that's what Little League Baseball's Lance Auken offers, "What was causing arm problems was not the curve ball, but the overuse of the arm. It found no evidence to say breaking pitches caused no more injuries than any others."
The famed Dr. James Andrews and his team at the American Sports Medicine Institute did a thorough study and found that curveballs themselves weren't more dangerous than fastballs, but they might lead to arm issues later in life.
The general wisdom from Dr. Andrews, via Lanier Johnson, the executive director of the ASMI: "Don't throw curveballs until you can shave."
And so we are left with little closure but a rather immense appreciation for the work ethic of a still growing boy.
The only thing we know for sure is the debate of "What's too much? and "When is too soon?" rages on, spreading into seemingly every corner of the sports landscape.
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