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|Quick reference medical handouts used
by Pediatric offices
Carefully Supervise Preteen Weight Training
Preteen boys often want to begin weight-lifting to increase their
strength and muscle bulk. Is weight lifting safe for children who have not
yet reached puberty? For most of this century, physicians and physical education
instructors did not support the idea of children and preadolescents participating
in strength and resistance training programs, this despite poor strength
levels in American children.
Much of the evidence against kids participating in such programs
came from scientific reports that young children were not able to gain strength
before puberty. Many physicians thought that the risks of injury and the
potential for growth stunting were too great. Furthermore, they preadolescents
lacked the hormonal "fuel" to boost muscle mass. It has been long believed
a certain amount of male hormone (called androgen) had to be present in the
blood stream before weight lifting would improve strength. And since an elevated
level is only present after puberty, any weight training before this time
would be ineffective.
This belief was supported by The American Academy of Pediatrics
who had issued a policy statement to its members that "unless good data becomes
available that shows safety, preadolescents should avoid the practice of
weight lifting, power lifting, and body building, and the repetitive use
of maximal amounts of weight in strength training programs, until they have
reached full sexual maturity."
A growing body of medical research now suggests that weight training
before puberty can be of some benefit. These investigations have shown that
preadolescents can respond to a strength-training program with an increase
in muscle mass roughly 50% of that seen in adults who undergo the same strength
training. Besides the improvement in strength, there is a decreased risk
of musculoskeletal overuse injuries while participating in sports. Furthermore,
a marked improvement in self esteem and self confidence was seen in those
preadolescents who took part in strength-training programs.
On the downside, weight training injuries did occur more frequently
in preadolescents. They usually resulted when improper techniques were used,
the child was not supervised by an adult, or the youngster attempted to lift
too much weight. These include acute musculoskeletal injuries (sprains and
strains), damage to the bone's growth plates, overuse injuries (particularly
of the elbow and knees), stress fractures, and a general disruption or slowing
of skeletal maturation. Another concern of some physicians is that children
and adolescents involved in weight training might turn to anabolic steroids
and other preparations in order to increase muscle strength and/or muscle
Experts in the field now recommend the following for parents of preteens
who allow their youngster to participate in weight training:
The equipment should be of appropriate design to accommodate the size
and maturity of the preadolescent. It should be located in an uncrowded area
free of obstructions with adequate lighting and ventilation. Avoid home workouts.
They tend to be unsupervised and the child often takes needless risks.
A pre participation physical exam is mandatory
The child must have the emotional maturity to accept and follow
instruction from a trained adult. This means that some 8-year-olds are ready,
while many 14- year olds are not. In addition, the child should have the
balance and coordination needed for weight lifting.
Adequate supervision by trainers who are knowledgeable in strength
training and the special problems of preteens
Strength training should always be preceded by a warmup period and
followed by a cool-down period
Competition in weight lifting should be prohibited
No maximum lift should ever be attempted
There should be a discussion about the misuse of anabolic steroids
and other illegally obtained medication used to increase muscle strength
The youngster should train for the right reason. He should not be
motivated by an overzealous coach or aggressive parents.
Maintain perspective. Cardiovascular fitness should be part of the
total program and weight training is no substitute for general fitness.
It is important to emphasize that weight training is probably the
last thing preteens should do to help their performance. Muscular training
is not the most vital part of a physical fitness program and a strong person
may not necessarily be physically fit. Aerobic exercise - the kind that makes
kids sweat and breathe hard (like basketball, running, swimming, or soccer),
is the best way to improve cardiovascular endurance, balance, agility, and
flexibility. Yet the evidence is now in that prepubescent and adolescent
resistance training is safe, that it is effective in developing muscular
strength and endurance, and that numerous benefits are possible following
such training when done with proper supervision.
As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as
medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your childs pediatrician.
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