Getting a lift out of weight work

Training: Budding athletes can benefit from pumping iron, particularly if they do it under careful supervision at their schools.

March 11, 2001|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Your teen-age son or, increasingly, daughter announces that he or she wants to start strength training - lifting weights, pumping iron. Many parents' instincts to feel alarm are correct, because lifting weights improperly can cause serious injury.

But, according to two county physical education teachers with long experience in weight training, given basic instruction for the athlete and understanding on the parents' part of what is involved, working out with weights is not a bad thing.

Their advice? Let budding athletes do their lifting at school. All weights instructors in public high schools in the county are certified through the National Sports Performance Association.

One risky setting, warns Don Van Deusen, physical education teacher and athletic director at River Hill High School and coach for two decades at Atholton High, occurs when a group, usually boys, lifts unsupervised in someone's basement. Peer pressure, he says, can result in an adolescent's attempting to lift too much weight.

Dan Ross, instructional leader in physical education, health and dance at Howard High, as well as Loyola College's strength and conditioning coach, adds, "It's more important what you can lift 10 times, not once."

Some other insights:

How young is too young for someone who wants to lift weights?

Ross: You don't want to start until puberty starts. Until then, you can do things such as push-ups and pull-ups.

Van Deusen: There is middle-school equipment for 12- and 13-year-olds, but with ninth-graders, we do weight training. By 14, they're all ready to go.

Are different approaches used for boys and girls?

Ross: Muscle development occurs with testosterone - males have more, but females have traces. And the girls really take to weight-lifting; they're like sponges, because among them it's never been pushed. Women's athletics is really gaining because of this.

Van Deusen: We have equipment that is a little easier for girls to work with, and we have one machine, the Graviton, that helps girls and guys who are heavy by allowing them to work against their body weight.

What is a preferable entry-level program? Weight machines? Or dumbbells and barbells, the so-called free weights?

Ross: The bar itself in free weights weighs 45 pounds, too much for some kids. So machines might be a little better; you learn technique, but you don't learn balance and coordination. I prefer free weights, and I use dumbbells. It's important to mix up the program and work on all muscle groups - and work not only on strength training but on speed and flexibility. And you need to incorporate running and flexibility.

Are sport-specific programs - tailored to a given sport - recommended, or is a general program enough?

Van Deusen: We start with a general program, and then we have 36 workouts that are sport-specific. That covers most sports, although we still have a couple we're devising one for. Even swimmers are lifting weights; for years, you didn't see that. A sport-specific regimen will enhance athletic ability. If two athletes start with the same natural ability and one is lifting and getting bigger, faster and stronger, he or she, of course, will have an advantage.

For the athlete just starting out, what are the benefits of weight training?

Ross: You do it for two reasons: to get stronger and to prevent injuries. Lifting also increases self-confidence, self-image. You get kids who aren't interested in playing with balls, and they can lift weights instead. Lacrosse and football are 60-minute-long games, and you want to be as strong at the end of the game as you are at the beginning.

Van Deusen: It also helps prevent joint injuries. And if you do get injured, the injury is usually less severe.

What constitutes a good program?

Van Deusen: When the child initiates lifting, he or she should be sore, but if severe pain continues, that's a warning they're being asked to do something they can't handle.

Ross: The No. 1 thing is, `Is the person involved having fun?' Safety would be the other No. 1 thing. Does the person running the program seem knowledgeable? Does he or she have a background in athletics? Or is that background in body building? There's a big difference between what an athlete does and what a body builder does. Are stretching and a cardiovascular workout being included? If they're only doing lifting, they're only doing one-third of it.

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