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In the past, health club owners have typically focused their teen programs on sports-specific training, but to capitalize on revenue opportunities within the trend of teens pursuing muscles, the health club industry should focus on teens not interested in sports and those who are overweight, some exercise researchers say.
Strength Training Safety
Just a couple of decades ago, the pervasive opinion was that children and teens should not practice weight exercises, but Bryant says the modern approach has shifted from age-based recommendations into those based on maturity level, motor skills and ability to follow instruction.
"More recently, as we've looked at data, weight training is one of the best ways for them to keep fit, with far fewer injuries than sports," Bryant says, though some club owners still harbor the misperception that weight-lifting teens may suffer premature closing of growth plates or stunted growth. These views grew out of misleading 1960s-era studies examining the impact of children's stressful work in Asian sweatshops, he says. Nowadays, even the U.S. government endorses physical activity for these age groups.
Promotion of these programs to teenagers must stress a safe progression in weight based on the technical mastery of a lift with good coaches differentiating between good and bad technique, Faigenbaum says.
"When I observe a class at the YMCA," he says, "I'll see a kid lower the weight when they recognize their limit. This is something they've taught the child, and it always impresses me."
Most of a teen's success with weight-training can be traced back to the instructor, he says, adding that club owners need to find people with the educational background to work with youth and then an ability to connect with teens.
Too often, club owners are instead concerned with what equipment to buy or what color to paint the walls, when the only critical variable is the person leading the teen strength-training program. (Faigenbaum recommends they have a background in pediatric science.)
Liability issues for club owners come down to proper supervision on the workout floor, says Karen Peterson, senior director of health and well-being at the YMCA in Quincy, MA. Her club keeps two to three staffers in the weight-lifting area at all times "to intervene when necessary," she says.
Adequately trained personnel on the exercise floor should discourage teens from competing with anyone other than themselves, Bryant says, citing gym programs such as The 200-Pound Bench Press Club as part of the problem. A recent study conducted by the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, OH, concluded that 47 percent of weight training-related injuries occurred in people aged 13 to 24.
"Make sure they master the movements," Bryant says. That means using a controlled manner, lifting rather than throwing, no fast or jerky movements and an appropriate range of motion.