It’ll stunt your growth. It’s dangerous. You know it causes arthritis and high blood pressure, right?
If you’re a member of the bodybuilding or weightlifting worlds, you’ve heard these unsolicited, elevator-style TED Talks — ironically from those with zero experience — at least once or twice.
You bite your tongue and take the high road, avoiding this confrontation for two reasons:
- Most of what they’re spewing is untrue (it’s an argument not worth your time).
- Weightlifting isn’t entirely risk-free (the old “quit while you’re ahead” scenario).
Those 300-pound deadlifts, rapid-fire pull-up reps, and 30 weekly squat sets could all trigger cascading physical effects that can leave you sidelined for weeks or even months.
Or worse … in an operating room.
Check out these 17 weight lifting injury statistics to put the risks into a better perspective!
Weight Lifting Gym Injuries Statistics
- Emergency rooms scattered across America treated nearly one million weightlifting injuries between 1990 and 2007.
- In that same 17-year span, annual injury rates skyrocketed over 48%.
- Men make-up some 82% of all weightlifting injuries.
- The top three weightlifting injury causes are dropped weights, crushed body parts, and equipment-related wounds (ex: a snapped resistance band flinging toward the face).
- An astounding 90% of injuries have classic free weights to blame (versus machines).
- Approximately 14% of weightlifting-related ER visits stem from lost balance, pulled muscles, and overexertion while training.
- Weightlifting caused 114 fatalities between 1990 and 2007, though 98% of injured lifters didn’t require hospitalization at all.
Top Ten Weightlifting Injury Causes (Activity Types)
If you’ve never so much as had to ice or foam-roll painfully tight muscles after an all-out pump, then you’re probably wondering, “How is weightlifting (and the gym, in general) so dangerous?”
As it turns out, certain equipment just doesn’t mesh well with newbies who are still learning the ropes and building gym expertise.
Here’s a list of the ten most dangerous gym gear, according to reported injury rates:
- Free weights (42.2%)
- Group exercise classes (15.9%)
- Treadmill (9.0%)
- Freestyle boxing (6.1%)
- Dumbbells (6.0%)
- Lower body exercises like squats (3.0%)
- Bench press (2.5%)
- Exercise bikes (2.4%)
- Yoga balls (1.6%)
- Barbells (1.5%)
Do you notice any similarities between these ten pieces of equipment?
We do: A shocking lack of control.
Think about how easy it is for a beginner to set the treadmill to 8.0 mph, not expect a punching bag to swing back toward them, or use pure momentum during heavy-ass dumbbell curls.
(The most surprising part is that those pesky resistance bands didn’t qualify for spots #1-10.)
The Six Most Common Weightlifting Injuries
The stats listed above are, for the most part, self-explanatory.
But let’s break this mind-blowing data down even further. What’s sending Americans to the emergency room or forcing them to muster up recovery weeks after gym training sessions?
- Overexertion (36.2%)
- Dropped weights or crushing (16.3%)
- Tripping or falling (12.5%)
- Odd landings (12.0%)
- Hitting into equipment or a wall (9.6%)
- Falling on cardio equipment, like treadmills (5.2%)
Aside from the tripping and slamming into walls, which you can likely chalk up to clumsiness and a new environment, the glaring issue seems to be not reading the body’s signals.
For example, when do you normally drop weights? When you’re pushing your muscles a few reps post-failure or attempting to lift a weight that’s well-beyond your power and strength.
Do you want to stay healthy? Then, factor in what’s reasonable for you, as compared to what you want to lift. Yes, even if that means a 2.5 or 5-pound increase on major lifts every two weeks.
Bench Press, Squat, and Deadlift Injury Statistics
7. In order from least to most injuries, here’s how the Big Three compound lifts rank during training: Bench press (27%), deadlift (31%), and squat (42%).
8. Of weightlifting injuries resulting from competitions, that rank is a tad jumbled: Squat (3%), bench press (4%), and deadlift (7%).
9. The military’s bench press injuries are nearing historic and concerning levels, with doctors treating pec major tears nine times in only four months, averaging a 258-pound lift.
Why Are Squats and Deadlifts More Dangerous?
The problem is that these lower-body exercises recruit muscles from head to toe. Thus, even a slightly imperfect form can wreak havoc on your delicate back, knees, ankles, and more!
One half-ass (or cheat) rep during either of these exercises is all it takes to cause:
- Lower back and knee injuries (triggered by excessive forward lean mid-squat or lifting with the legs during deadlifts)
- Neck injuries (caused by a lack of squat pads)
- Trap tightness (ignited by excess weight while stabilizing the barbell via squats)
- Pulled hamstrings (from deadlifting weights heavier than you can handle)
Don’t assume that, because these exercises are among the Big Three, that they’re naturally safe. Forcing your body to do anything it’s not strong enough to manage will eventually lead to injury.
The Elephant in the Room: U.S. Military Injuries
The military injury statistics are exceptionally disheartening, as these are the same brave heroes already risking their lives to keep all 330 million of us protected.
But shoving untrained recruits through 10 weeks of brutal basic training (sometimes with no prior training experience) is asking for trouble.
This crash course in fitness ultimately leads to widespread injuries, with up to 12% of recruits facing physical backlash and nearly 30% in Naval Special Warfare training suffering an injury.
In these cases, the culprit is overuse or overtraining.
Each year, military doctors treat some 650,000 soldiers for injury-related medical visits.
It’s a shame to imagine our military members suffering career-ending injuries while benching when their real job entails far worse, like jumping from planes or crawling bomb-laden ditches.
Olympic Weightlifting Injury Rate & Statistics
11. For every 1,000 hours dedicated to pumping iron, you’re statistically more likely to face 3.3 recurring or minor injuries.
12. The most injury-prone body parts while weightlifting are the shoulders, knees, and back, accounting for 64.8% of all reported injuries.
13. Tendinitis (or tendonitis) and strains are responsible for some 68.9% of all injuries.
14. Recurring injuries are far less common than chronic (30.4%) and acute (59.6%) injuries.
15. Nearly three in four (74.6%) back injuries are diagnosed as strains.
16. In the knees, tendinitis is the most common (85%) weightlifting complication.
17. More than half (54.6%) of all training-related shoulder injuries are strains.
Tendinitis: The Facts
Tendinitis is a menace in the broader weightlifting community and a bizarre “rite of passage” for those committed to their strength training regimens (not the best way to build camaraderie).
But after that dreaded tendinitis diagnosis, you’ll never train the same again.
Now, what is tendinitis, how does it happen, and what does the road to recovery look like?
Well, tendinitis is an overuse injury involving painfully inflamed or generally irritated tendons (the same tissue that connects muscle to bone).
With repetitive motions (like hundreds of shoulder press reps a week) using hefty resistance, these tendons become mildly damaged with microtears and remain sore for longer.
This sports injury can impact every joint from the wrist to the knees, with symptoms like:
- Joint pain or stiffness
- Crackling or grating sensations
- Limited range of motion
We saved the worst news for last: None of the top treatment methods will mesh with your training. We’re talking about taking time off, attending physical therapy, and surgery (in severe cases).
The road to recovery could leave you out of the gym for six weeks or longer.
What’s Causing Back, Shoulder, & Knee Injuries?
The injury rates in competitive weightlifters are somehow baffling and completely par for the course (imagine cranking out clean & jerks and snatches hundreds of times a week).
What’s causing these joint strains and tendinitis in the world’s elite Olympic lifters? The most likely explanations include:
- Skipping the rotating sleeves (reducing pressure on the elbows and wrists)
- Attempting a heavier than usual weight and sacrificing form (or a solid base)
- Lifting insanely heavy weights above the head (shoulder impingement)
- Avoiding adequate recovery time (microtears transition into tendinitis and full-on strains)
- Poor head-to-toe flexibility (stiffer and less supple joints)
- Sidelining the taped wrist methods (refusing the wrist bones excess rotation)
Of course, we can’t overlook the fact that this study honed in on elite weightlifters. These dedicated athletes could hit the gym seven days a week with a rare rest day every now and then.
When the muscles, joints, and tendons aren’t fully healed from the previous workout, aside from overuse, the body will compensate for its weaknesses (AKA: form goes down the toilet).
Can Lifting Weights Damage Your Growth Plates?
The “weightlifting will stunt your growth” adage dates back to an 1842 study that discovered British children working in coal mines were alarmingly shorter than their peers.
This now 179-year-old finding mysteriously snowballed into a widespread myth that weightlifting causes stunted growth in teens and children, thanks to prematurely fused growth plates.
Unless you suffer a growth plate injury (fracture) before puberty ends (age 13-17), weightlifting is generally safe with proper form and a skilled trainer.
In fact, the growth plate risks are lower for lifting than biking, sledding, basketball, and football.
What Are Common Injuries In Weightlifting?
However rare weightlifting injuries are in the modern training era, certain areas of the body are undoubtedly more prone to damage. The most common lifting injuries include:
- Knee injuries (torn ligaments and joint stress)
- Back strain
- Shoulder girdle tension
- Neck or spine stress (often caused by lackadaisical form)
Remember: Your safety is on-par with your lifting form and rest. If you’re sacrificing technique to set a PR or overtraining those sensitive joints, debilitating injuries are bound to happen.
Can Lifting Weights Kill You?
Yes, lifting weights can kill you. But so can hippos native to Africa (2,900 fatalities), falling out of bed (450 deaths), and vending machines (13 victims).
The latest research recommends a heart screening before starting a weight training regimen, as lifting 50% of your weight with unstable blood pressure can trigger an aneurysm or sudden death.
But weightlifting’s unusually rare death risk can also result from (untreated):
- Rhabdomyolysis (kidney damage stemming from overtraining)
- Unbalanced electrolytes (low body fluids, causing severe swelling or heart problems)
- Dehydration (“drying up” the body’s cells and leading to eventual organ shutdown)
In normal circumstances, with rock-solid technique, appropriate rest days, and proper hydration, weightlifting is ultimately a safe activity! If something feels wrong, STOP.
Is weightlifting safe? Is weightlifting dangerous?
No matter how you phrase it, the answer remains the same: “It can be.”
Responsible, injury-free weightlifting training requires pushing your ego and “quick results” to the side and building your routine (and lifestyle) around nothing but science. That means:
- Allowing your muscles some 2-3 days to recover between grueling sessions
- Beginning each workout with a proper dynamic warm-up
- Hydrating daily and sticking to a balanced diet (did somebody mention protein?)
- Never straying from proper technique, even with a PR in sight and adrenaline pumping
- Clearing your stress-clouded mind before grabbing the barbell
Most importantly, read your body. If you sense a weird twinge in your shoulder after benching or feel a pop in your knee while squatting, re-rack the weight and turn your training down a notch.
Nagging injuries aren’t flukes and, if you refuse to shelve the training for a few days to give your muscles and ligaments time to recover, your future might be in a physical therapist’s office.
Not on the competition stage or in the power rack. If you’re nowhere near 100% before a workout, it’s okay to take another rest day and get back on track tomorrow.