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The Buffalo News (New York)
Playing sports can be physically taxing, so athletes often lift weights to improve their strength and power.
While weight training is safe and beneficial for adults, some people question its safety for young people.
Some adults fear that weight training in childhood or adolescence will stunt growth or lead to injuries.
But many local experts say these fears are, for the most part, unfounded.
In terms of juvenile weight-lifting, "the pros definitely outweigh the cons," says Vincent Mangione Jr., a personal trainer at Kenmore Barbell and Fitness.
Strength training allows young athletes to keep up in their respective sports as competition levels accelerate, Mangione says.
Furthermore, getting an early start lets children focus on the basics of lifting and learning proper form, which will help them when they're older.
Bambi Horton, an athletic trainer for Nichols School, also stated that weight-lifting is OK for adolescents, as long as they train with proper form, lift an appropriate amount of weight, and train short term.
Horton, however, was less supportive of weight training in preadolescents. "I don't like to see kids lifting more than their own body weight. Pushups, pull-ups, all that stuff is great ... but past that, I would avoid the weight room."
Jim Molloski, a UB sports medicine professional, did not set an age limit on weight-lifting, and stated that an athlete can work out at any age. When children are young, they can train with light weights and focus on proper form and technique. "I've had 8- and 10-year-olds train with their body weight or with broom sticks." Weight-lifting can teach young athletes to control their movements. Moreover, once children are comfortable with the technique, they can add more weight as they age.
Dr. Adnan Siddiqui, a prominent neurosurgeon from Buffalo, stated that youthful athletes can lift weights, as long as they train in moderation. Regardless of your age, "some degree of weight training can help condition and strengthen you," he said.
Dr. Michael Ferrick, an associate professor of orthopedics at University at Buffalo and a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, has a similar perspective, and stated that adolescents and preadolescents can strength train, provided they don't overdo it.
"As long as done with appropriate technique, supervision, appropriate rest days and appropriate weight amounts and reps," weight training can be "good for general overall health," he said.
A common cause for concern when it comes to weight-lifting is the number of afflictions that occur.
Injuries from weight training, however, only result from improper execution, explained Mangione. Unhealthy exertion in the weight room, such as lifting more weight than one can control and competing with teammates, can harm the athlete, as well.
If athletes weight-lift with poor technique, like putting too much pressure on the balls of their feet or leaning too far forward, problems can occur, said Molloski.
Mangione also said that "the most dangerous thing a child can do is find an ill-informed trainer."
Athletes are predisposed to injury if they are not properly taught, said Horton.
Immoderate weight training can lead to other repercussions, as well.
Siddiqui claimed that, "when it becomes excessive ... that is when you start getting into trouble."
Ferrick agreed, and claimed that muscle, tendon and joint injuries occur from "overdoing it."
Strength training can actually prevent athletes from getting hurt in their respective sports.
Ferrick said that "good muscle function can protect body parts and joints from injury during sports."
"If you are a long-distance runner or a soccer player, some degree of weight training for your legs can strengthen your muscles and prevent you from having injuries," Siddiqui said.
A common belief about strength training in youth is that it may stunt growth.
Mangione addressed this idea, and claimed that it will not interfere in that regard, unless a growth plate is damaged. Such disorders occur only with poor technique and supervision.
Weight-lifting does not stunt growth "as long as it's not overdone in terms of weight used and number reps and number days per week," said Ferrick.
Horton stated that weight training short-term will not stunt growth, but long-term weight training can. "I've had kids fracture their growth plates. If you damage the growth plate, the bone may not grow. When kids have an injury younger in life that affects the growth plate, they may actually have a leg length discrepancy or things where they're not fully equal on both sides."
Although weight-lifting is safe for most young athletes, it is important to acknowledge that it may not be appropriate for everyone.
"People who can have fragility of blood vessels, when they lift extremely heavy weights, can tear the blood vessels, causing a stroke," said. Siddiqui.
Horton explained that "there are some kids that have congenital disorders where they don't grow as fast, and have to take human growth hormones." Children with "things along those natures" should hold off on strength training until they are older.
It is also crucial to recognize that weight training is not absolutely necessary to live a healthy lifestyle. Ferrick said that "both adolescents and preadolescents just need a good diet -protein, veggies and fruit, less processed foods - and general physical activity."
Dana Nigrin is a sophomore at Nichols School.
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