Parents, and even some experts, frequently question the wisdom of young teenagers using weight-training as part of their fitness regime, but with proper guidance it can certainly be beneficial, and even guard against injury
For most schoolchildren, the academic year began two months ago, but for some it actually began back in summer. The Junior and Senior Cups preoccupy the minds of rugby boys, while other boys dream about cup or championship success and it is not uncommon for young lads to be training for their team before the school bell signals the start of a new term.
The dilemma in the minds of parents and coaches is at what age should little Johnny pick up a dumbbell or barbell or begin resistance training. In 2001, the American Academy Of Paediatrics published a paper which stated: “Pre-adolescents and adolescents should avoid competitive weight-lifting, power-lifting, body-building, and maximal lifts until they reach physical and skeletal maturity.”
Since females generally reach their adult height at 16, and males at 18, this would mean the majority of athletes, especially gymnasts, would not be lifting weights until several years after they retire from sport!
The concern of parents is that weight-training might stunt growth. The late Dr Ml iff was one of the most respected researchers in exercise, physiology and biomechanics. He said in his book Supertraining: “It has never been shown scientifically or clinically that the periodic imposition of large forces by weight-training on the growing body causes damage to the growth plates.
“In fact, research shows that those that weight-train are 1.5cm taller than those that don’t and studies proved that 78pc of world-record weight-lifters are the tallest members of their families.
“It is extremely misleading to focus on the alleged risks of weight-training on children when biomechanical research shows that simple daily activities, such as running, jumping, or catching, can impose far greater forces on the musculoskeletal system. Premature closing of the growth plates is related primarily to hormonal influences, not injury.”
A study published in the November/December 2001 issue of the Journal Of American Academy Of Orthopaedic Surgeons cited research showing that in children ranging in age from five to 14, the number of injuries from bicycling was almost 400pc greater than those from weight-lifting.
Research also shows that children who lift weights have thicker elbows, wrists and knees. If you were to go to a casualty ward on a Saturday evening you would witness that these very joints are the ones that doctors are treating as a result of sports injuries.
In many cases, not lifting weights can increase the risk of injury, especially in contact sports such as rugby, Gaelic football and soccer.
My journey into resistance training began as an adolescent lifting bales of hay on my uncle’s farm. There is no better feeling than realising, as a young boy, that you have the power to sculpt a physique into the shape you desire by working hard. It increases self-confidence and it enables athletes to correct muscle imbalances that cause injuries.
For example, when the quadriceps on the front of the thigh are too strong for the muscles on the back of the thigh, it can cause a knee injury. One-sided dominant sports like golf do not develop muscles on both sides so this can cause low back pain if weight training is not done to protect the body.
Teenage boys, at around 14 years, are in their optimal state for growing muscles because their bodies are flooded with testosterone, which. enables the body to grow muscles and burn more fat.
With rising obesity levels, it would be more advantageous for boys and girls to be developing their bodies and potential in a weight-room as opposed to playing a Ninteno, drinking soft drinks and eating sweets.
In closing, it is important for young athletes to perform a training programme that will physically prepare them for the stress of their sport. It is also important to note that the quality of the coaching provided will be dictated by the quality and the experience of coaches.
The coaches must gather as much information as they can about the physical and emotional maturity of each athlete by consulting parents and medical people. For example, some 12-year-old athletes have the physical maturity of 14-year-olds. Only with this information can a coach make responsible, informed decisions about what weight-training protocols are best.
Exercise researcher Istvan Bayley, who has acted as a consultant to the FAI, could explain why Ireland’s success on an international stage has been limited to our boxers.
His research confirms that for someone to win an Olympic medal, most will have performed at least eight years of weight-training before achieving medal success.