Although numerous articles have been written for the older bodybuilder who is just beginning, I feel that the true beginner, the child, has been neglected. This article will focus on weight lifting for children and teenagers and its risks, benefits, and controversies.
The first thing I would like to address is steroid abuse among teens. Steroids are a blessing for bodybuilders who are willing to sacrifice their bodies to be big and lean. True, you may be the biggest, strongest person in your school, but at what cost? The first thing you would most likely be concerned about is your testes. Your testes shrink immensely from steroid abuse. Steroids also cause various organ problems, and can even lead to death. My main point here: stay away from steroids!
One of the biggest myths about weight lifting is that it stunts your growth. No studies have ever been shown that lifting weights stunts or inhibits growth. But, as with any exercise program, if you do too much too soon, physical problems can occur no matter how old the person doing the exercise is. The most important aspects when training as a child are supervision, exercise technique, light weights, and high repetitions in the 12, 15, and even 20 rep range. As a teen, you may gradually progress to heavier weights with lower reps, around 10 per set.
Supervision is key. The risk of injury is real but it is inversely proportional to proper technique and supervision. Reported weight lifting injuries in children range from fractures, spondylolysis, meniscal tears, and herniated disks to dislocations and cardiac rupture. The vast majority of these injuries occur in kids working out by themselves, without supervision. For healthy children who are taught proper lifting form by qualified trainers or therapists and who work out in a supervised, noncompetitive environment, the risk of injury is very low and the potential for benefits is great.
I am a strong subscriber to the belief that you won't make good gains unless you are properly motivated. A child being pushed by an aggressive coach or overzealous parent should not be training. A serious young athlete with reasonable training goals, supportive parents, and a qualified coach can benefit from strength training.
Focus on free weights. While machines may seem to be attractive, they are not made for children. Free weights allow you to better mimic a sports movements.
Now onto what you came for. Where do you begin? This all depends on where you currently are.
TEENS: If you are an overweight adolescent, you should begin with mostly cardiovascular exercise, and train with light weights. Do 5-10 minutes of walking on a treadmill, play sports whenever you can. Do what you can to burn calories. A good diet for you would be, depending on your size, between 1800 and 2000 calories per day. 3,500 calories is equivalent to one pound of fat, so a reduction in caloric intake and an increase in cardio exercise is a must. The weights you should use should be heavy enough for you to do 15 repetitions with, but no more. Rest in between sets should be kept to around a minute, and you should use 2-3 sets per exercise. Try and train 3 times weekly.
If you are a normal teen, somewhere between sedentary and athletic, you should undertake a more intense program. As a beginner, you want to work out three times a week, doing 10 repetitions per set, and around 4 sets per exercise. Use 3 to 4 exercises per body part. Try to stay away from compound movements (using a number of muscles, i.e. clean & jerk, bench press, deadlift), as their execution is very technical, and you can injure yourself if you are not under proper supervision. Once you become more advanced, you may wish to switch to a split-routine, in which you train different body parts on different days. An example of this would be:
- Sunday: Rest
- Monday: Legs
- Tuesday: Chest and back
- Wednesday: Arms and shoulders
- Thursday: Legs
- Friday: Chest and back
- Saturday: Arms and shoulders
This routine allows for ample rest in between exercising each body part, something which is very important in weight lifting. I do not recommend training the same body part with less than 48 hours rest in between. Diet also comes into play. Keep the ratio of protein to carbohydrates about 50/50, and don't starve yourself! It doesn't work. When you don't consume food, your body goes into a conservation mode. This is thanks to our cave people ancestors, who didn't always have a fast-food place around the block.
PREADOLESCENTS: Stick with light weights, and high repetitions. Don't use bodyweight exercises to try and gain strength. Take the classic push-up for an example. If you weigh 100 lbs., you are really bench pressing around 75lbs. per push up! Do basic exercises, one or two per body part. Use high sets.
Learn to set reasonable goals. You most likely will not end up being Arnold Schwartzenegger, and you need to realize this before you begin training. Visible results usually take about six weeks to appear, but you will feel strength gains within four weeks. Set small goals at first, and once you reach them, do it again. Don't start off by saying "in 6 months I will have 18 inch biceps", because that is unreasonable, and when you don't achieve your goal, you won't be as motivated to train.
So how does all this work? Why does picking up heavy things cause your muscles to get bigger? When you lift weights, you are actually making micro-tears in the muscle fiber, yes, you are destroying your muscles by lifting weights. When your body repairs these tears, it creates more muscle tissue than there was before. Your body adapts to the stresses you place upon it.
A good book to learn exercises to be used in the programs I have described in this article is "Getting Stronger," by Bill Pearl. It depicts many exercises and explains weight training in great detail. Good luck with bodybuilding! Email me if you have any questions or comments.