Teens: Too Young to Pump Iron?


Boys are bombarded by images of male models and movie stars that equate beefed-up, muscular bodies with male sex appeal. This can put them under the same intense pressure as girls to get the “look” if they want to be considered attractive.

Many teenage boys respond by taking up weightlifting and bodybuilding with a vengeance. Getting strong and fit are worthy goals. But is pumping iron safe for teens?

Strength training, not weightlifting
Properly supervised strength training using light weights in a controlled way doesn’t usually pose a danger. In fact, it can benefit most teens. But kids should avoid weightlifting or power lifting. Lifting weights that are too heavy in a jerky motion can put teens at significant risk of injury, especially back injuries.

Plus, the emphasis that weightlifting and bodybuilding place on bulky muscles can lead some kids to experiment with performance-enhancing drugs or supplements, such as creatine. The long-term risks of creatine are not known. Anabolic steroids have many well-known serious risks, including impotence and liver cancer.

Tips for strength training
Experts agree that a program of strength training can help a teen be stronger, more fit, and less prone to injury than before. It may also increase a teen’s self-esteem and help establish a lifetime of good fitness habits. With supervision and training, children as young as 8 years old can start strength training.

If your child is interested in strength training:

•Take your child for a medical checkup first. Some children should not take part in weight- or strength-training programs. Ask the doctor what level of activity is right for your child.
•Find a qualified instructor who works with kids and can teach proper technique.
Teens who want to build strength should follow these general guidelines:

•Always start with a 10- to 15-minute warm-up.
•Work out for 20 to 30 minutes, followed by a 10- to 15-minute cool-down.
•Focus first on form rather than weight. When proper form is learned, weight can be added.
•Do 8 to 15 repetitions of each exercise. When it’s easy to do this many, add a little more weight.
•Exercise all the muscle groups, and take each joint through its full range of motion.
•Take a day off between strength training. Two or 3 times a week is enough.
•Drink adequate amounts of fluids and eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Teens should not try lifting the greatest possible amount of weight until their bodies are fully mature.

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