With adolescent obesity becoming epidemic, it may be a welcome relief to see your teen put down the game controller and pick up some free weights. While regular exercise is a healthy habit at any age, one form of fitness training — bodybuilding — can be detrimental to a teen’s health if practiced incorrectly.
Since adolescent (under age 16) bodies are still developing, stressing the skeletal frame with excessive weight can inhibit growth. Couple this with a restricted diet and nutritional supplements, and it can result in serious health complications with the potential for lasting consequences. To avoid the negative effects of bodybuilding but still encourage teens to exercise regularly, try to make them aware of the following facts and strategies.
Pain does not equal gain
Attempting to follow the fitness regimen of experienced bodybuilders when you’re young and just beginning to lift is completely counterintuitive. None of these people achieved their current strength and aesthetic overnight; teens are much better off reading about how these athletes began their training, and how they gradually augmented their lifting regimen to achieve their fitness goals.
Starting out with a 2 rep max and spending 20 minutes toning trapezius minor won’t do anything to improve the overall tone, mass, and strength of the body. Instead, 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps at a challenging but reasonable weight will yield faster results, and not stunt growth or cause joint injuries in the process. It’s important to remember that it takes years of consistent training to gain significant mass. If the body is injured at a young age, it’s less likely that it will be able to endure decades of lifting. However, if the proper progression is followed, the body will continue to become stronger and perform better for years to come.
Eat well, not restrictively
Reducing body fat while increasing muscle mass is the goal of most bodybuilders. Professional bodybuilders follow very specific diets that enable them to lean out while bulking up, and may evendehydrate themselves before a competition to increase the visibility of muscle striation.
For a developing teen, none of these practices are recommended. Restricting caloric intake, loading up on protein, or eliminating carbohydrates can result in slowed growth and/or hormonal development. Rather than following a meal plan designed for advanced, adult bodybuilders, it’s far more beneficial to eat whole foods from all food groups, and reduce or eliminate processed foods and refined sugars.
A healthy diet can also improve concentration and athletic ability. If a teen becomes intent on following a specific meal plan, be sure to find out exactly what it entails, and monitor your teen’s eating habits to be sure they’re not becoming overly obsessed with what they are and are not consuming.
Stay away from supplements
As a developing teenager, hormone levels are high, and should not be artificially altered. This means staying away from common fitness supplements such as creatine and steroids which is known to cause heart disease, liver damage, and testicular atrophy. It can be difficult to wait out the awkward years when the body seems too thin or too heavy, especially when teens are surrounded by classmates who can be less than kind. It’s essential to guide teens toward healthy diet and exercise habits so that they can achieve age-appropriate fitness goals, and see that their bodies will only continue to improve if they stick with a healthy lifestyle.
Talking your teen out of a rigorous bodybuilding regimen may not be easy but hopefully, when presented with potential consequences and healthy alternatives, they’ll begin to see that optimal fitness can take decades to achieve. If you’re still having problems communicating this message, consider hiring a personal trainer who specializes in youth fitness to help your teen get on the right track.