Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Rock. Christian Bale. When you think of weight training, you probably think of these buff figures. Many young men dream of being so muscular, while young women flee from weights because they think that just looking at a dumbbell will turn them into the Hulk. But weight lifting isn’t only for adults and certainly not just for men and boys. In fact, weight lifting can be a beneficial part of any teen’s life in many ways, from boosting performance in sports to improving confidence and self-esteem – and wouldn’t we all love some more of that?
Just out of high school and already an Olympian, former gymnast Zoe Smith brought home a weightlifting world-record in the 2012 Olympics for the United Kingdom. Image Source: The Telegraph
Weight training or strength training is a class of exercises where you move a weight (whether it’s your own bodyweight, a dumbbell, a barbell or an item like a sandbag) with proper form and in controlled motions to build strength. A few examples include push-ups, pull-ups, squatting, bench-pressing and overhead pressing. But strength training isn’t about having the biggest biceps or impressing your friends by pushing your 1992 Buick Century up a hill. It’s about making your muscles, ligaments and tendons stronger to maintain health and functioning in everyday life. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, strength training performed safely and with proper form can benefit your cardiovascular health, strengthen your bones, improve your mental health – and for overweight or obese teens, be an effective part of losing weight or maintaining your weight.
Strength training won’t turn the average teenager (male or female) into a bodybuilder. Young women can become stronger but not bulkier when challenging themselves with strength training. In fact, increasing muscle tone in the body can make individuals appear leaner despite what the scale says. This is because muscle is heavier and more dense than fat. Young men may have a bit of a hormonal advantage for building muscle (due to their higher testosterone levels), but becoming buff still requires years of proper training and dieting, dedication and consistency to see results.
Olympic hopeful Amna al Haddad executes a lift called the snatch as she trains to represent the United Arab Emirates. Image Source: The New York Times
But how can something like squatting or pull-ups help me in volleyball or soccer, you might ask? By strengthening your muscles, ligaments and tendons, you help protect your joints from sports-related injuries. Your body suffers wear and tear with all the jumping, running, stopping, starting and pivoting that athletes do. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, teens who do strength training along with aerobic activity can cut their risk of sports injuries in half. Strength training is even more important for female athletes. Sporty girls are more likely to suffer from joint problems like ankle sprains and serious knee injuries like ACL tears. In fact, these injuries are common among young ladies playing high-impact sports like basketball or cheerleading. This is because estrogen makes the ligaments in these joints more relaxed than in men. So strength training is crucial for young women to keep them in the field and on the court!
Strength training doesn’t just help protect you, but can help make you a better athlete, too. Many sports require athletes to exert power and force – whether by throwing a shot put, propelling yourself forward while sprinting, or launching yourself from the ground to shoot a hoop or clear the bar in the high jump. Having strong muscles and sturdy connective tissue helps your body produce that force and power to run quicker, throw farther and jump higher. Of course, strength training exercises must be done with proper form and safety in mind – because injuries in the weight room can quickly sideline an athlete.
2012 London Olympian Holley Mangold demonstrates the clean and jerk. Image Source: The New York Times
Heavy lifting for the rest of us
Athletes aren’t the only people who benefit from strength training. Even if you don’t do sports, you can get the same benefits from weight lifting safely and with proper form. Those benefits can carry over to a summer job as a gardener, for example, carrying sacks of lawn feed. Or it could make it easier for the teenage waiter or waitress to safely lift and carry that tray of dinner plates. Strength training can be just the ticket to confidence, for instance, when you can finally move those heavy boxes of unused books from your room to the basement without anyone’s help. Strength training is excellent for teens with a little or a lot of weight to lose, too. Muscles burn more energy than fat, so having more muscles boosts your metabolism – along with the other physical and mental benefits mentioned before.
While lifting weights isn’t a magic potion to well-being and independence, it can form the foundation of a healthy life. Whether you’re an athlete or not, you can reap the benefits of strength training. Hey, you never know – you might even like it, and even better, kick some serious butt in it!
Want to learn more?
- Speak with a physical education teacher, coach or athletic trainer in your school district, community center or local gym to learn how to get started. Get your doctor’s permission first before starting a new exercise routine, of course!
- Visit Stumptuous.com for posts from a smart, sassy and funny weightlifter. Check out her post “Training for young’uns” for weightlifting for teens and adolescents and visit her fantastic From Dork to Diva series to see how to safely execute lifts.
- Visit Exrx.net for descriptions and videos of exercises, routines and dietary information.
By MAIRE KIRLEY