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From The Desk Of Clarence Bass

“[Who’s] to blame that Americans have the fattest kids on earth? It’s you, Mr. Dad, pumping your bike madly while you let your triple-chinned five-year-old lie in the back of his little vinyl bike caboose. He’s back there on his cellphone, gorging on marshmallow bunnies. Let him pedal himself. Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated

  Weights for Kids

Bill Pearl was 10 and Father Jim Schwertley was 12 when they started lifting weights. I started training on and off when I was about 12 and was lifting regularly by age 14. Bill and Jim are now over 70, and I’ll never see 65 again; and we’re all still lifting--and lean. Not long ago doctors and coaches were warning that lifting so young was dangerous for still-growing bodies, but no more. “Fitness experts now see strength training as safe and effective, even for preteens,” The Wall Street Journal recently reported.

My dad, a medical doctor, planted the seed when he brought home a weight set for himself, but I mostly taught myself how to lift by using common sense and reading Strength & Health magazine. It didn’t take long before I knew as much, probably more, about lifting than he did.

Bill and Jim were essentially self-taught as well. The simple fact is that there wasn’t much information available at the time, especially for kids, and what was offered was mostly wrong. I’d been lifting to good effect for a number of years when my high school coach told me to stop; he said it was bad for me. Most doctors thought lifting so young would cause injury and might stunt growth.

“Those outdated beliefs are not true,” says Dr. Avery Faigenbaum, a professor of exercise science at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and a leading youth fitness researcher with years of experience working with children and teenagers in the weight room.

 Safe for Kids?

Provided that a strength-training program is properly supervised, says Faigenbaum, “the risk of injury while strength training is actually lower than many other children’s sports and activities.” The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its policy two years ago, according to The Wall Street Journal, to say that strength training for children and adolescents may prevent injuries and enhance health, and doesn’t appear to adversely affect growth. “In fact,” says Dr. Faigenbaum, “all major medical and fitness organizations in the United States…support and encourage children and teenagers to participate in supervised youth strength training programs.”

That doesn’t mean kids should go into the weight room and see how much they can lift. “That’s when injuries will occur,” Dr. Joel Brenner, director of pediatrics and adolescent sports medicine at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, told the WSJ.

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, teens should perform between 1 and 3 sets of 6 to 15 reps on a variety of upper and lower body exercises. Kids, like adults, should start out gradually. They should concentrate on performing the exercises correctly and get a feel for how their muscles work. As they become accustomed to lifting and get stronger, they can start slowly increasing the poundages. Proper form should remain the top priority, however. 

  How Young?

“In general, if children are ready for organized sports they are ready for strength training,” says Dr. Faigenbaum. If they can understand and follow instructions, they're ready. “Children as young as age six have participated in youth strength training, and many eight-year-old boys and girls have benefited from regular participation in a supervised strength training program.”

I believe it’s best to wait until the child shows an interest in lifting. Pushing a kid to lift before he or she is ready is one of worst things a parent or coach can do. Lifting should be the kid’s idea, not the parent’s. Encourage, but don’t push; that’s the key.

Bill Pearl started lifting to get strong enough to whip his older brother’s ass. Father Jim’s motivation was similar: “I was undersized, young for my school class and had large protruding ears that made me an intriguing target for local bullies.” And me, I wanted to catch up with my more athletic buddies. All three of us lifted because we wanted to. 

 

This wonderful photo of Jim Schwertley at 12 shows his protruding ears—and his determined nature.

Bill Pearl, in his book Getting Stronger, relates that parents often came to his gym and asked him to devise a weigh-training program for their sons or daughters. He soon learned that parents usually don’t make good training partners for their children. Parents tend to project their own demands on their children, who may or may not live up to those expectations. “I’ve seen boys in tears as their dads tried to get them to push too much weight,” Pearl wrote. It goes without saying that children who are nagged, mocked and threatened into lifting are not likely to develop a lifelong exercise habit. Unfortunately, kids often give up weight training because their parents pushed too hard.

My father, on the other hand, handled my introduction to weight training with a perfect balance of encouragement and restraint. As noted earlier, I got the idea to start lifting when he brought home a weight set for his own use. He let me use his weights when I showed an interest, but he never pushed me. I lifted because I wanted to. The way he steered me into lifting competition illustrates his low-key, patient approach

My father asked if I would like to go to a lifting contest he read about in the local newspaper. I wasn’t too interested, so he didn’t force the issue. He planted the seed in my mind and let it go at that. I continued to train and when the contest came around the next year, I wasn’t in the audience. Instead, I entered, along with two of my athletic schoolmates--and won my first medal.

Supervise, yes, but don’t push. Don’t pressure. Inspire. Encourage.

  Fight Obesity

Lifting weights and building muscle mass can increase metabolism and pave the way for a lifetime of physical activity. That makes it a powerful weapon in the fight against obesity, Dr. Brenner told the WSJ. (See articles 2 and 13.) Regular weight training is one of the main reasons why Bill, Jim and I have never been fat.

We wanted to pedal the bike ourselves, and our dads let us.

(For more information on weight training for children and teenagers, visit Dr Faigenbaum’s website: strongkid.com.)

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Copyright©2003 Clarence and Carol Bass.  All rights reserved.