The latest research shows that weight training not only does not affect growth, but it provides numerous physical and psychological benefits.
Alejandro Romero is a teenager who barely has two months left until he turns 16. For seven months he has been going to the gym to polish his muscles. He is consistent, and tries to train five to six days a week.
Before, during the pandemic, when he was only 12 years old, he began trying at home with some weight lost in the storage room. He was interested in strength exercises, he had seen videos on the Internet of boys who trained and he liked his body. But his parents wouldn’t let him go to a gym: in fact, they even scolded him when they saw him with a weight. “It’s not good for your age, it’s going to affect your growth,” they told him.
When the pandemic ended, given his parents’ refusal to let him do bodybuilding, he tried other types of physical activities: basketball, parkour, or skateboarding, but nothing fulfilled him. He was still searching for something that would help him look better. His desperation led him to look for reports that would indicate if what his parents had told him was true. And to his surprise and joy, no, it wasn’t: it was a myth. Strength exercise was not harmful at his age.
What happened to Alejandro is not an isolated case. There are still many prejudices about adolescents (10-19 years old) doing bodybuilding. But are they solid beliefs? “Scientific evidence says that strength exercise in adolescents is not only not harmful, but is necessary, always advised by professionals,” affirms forcefully Alberto García, manager of the National Federation of Sports Facilities Entrepreneurs (FNEID).
According to the latest update made in 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO), children and adolescents should do at least one hour of moderate or intense physical activity every day of the week. “And obviously, among this exercise is strength exercise,” indicates Montserrat Romaguera, family doctor and member of the Semfyc Physical Activity and Health Working Group. “A few years ago everyone talked only about cardiovascular exercise and not strength exercise, which we see is increasingly important for the development and prevention of problems, especially of the musculoskeletal system. Improves quality of life”.
At these ages there is usually not much knowledge about this type of exercise. “For this reason, the ideal is to know what the adolescent’s expectations and purpose are, because they often look for patterns that are erroneous,” emphasizes the family doctor. “The muscle must be trained, but with certain guidelines. If a teenager wants to do something, the ideal is for the person who is training him to know and plan his objectives.
The American Academy of Pediatrics published a report on resistance training in children and adolescents in 2020. The document debunks misconceptions, such as that a child cannot increase strength before puberty, or that resistance can impede growth. “It is important to involve them in some form of resistance exercise regardless of whether they practice other sports,” says the report, which also includes how strength training has been shown to produce numerous health benefits: improvements in cardiovascular fitness, body composition, bone mineral density, blood lipid profiles and mental health, as well as greater resistance to injury.
“Resistance exercises aimed at improving muscle mass or performance have health benefits, as long as they are performed with correct supervision and good technique,” supports José Manuel Moreno, member of the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP). .
Alejandro asked for advice at his gym and they helped him with technique and planning his workouts. Although he recognizes that the ideal would have been to have a personal trainer, for financial reasons he could not afford it.
“The service is a little expensive, although it is an investment for your health,” says Carlota Tovar, personal trainer, and member of the Official College of Graduates of PE and Physical Activity and Sports Sciences (COPLEF). She explains that adolescents, although they should be advised, do not usually hire personalized training due to its cost. The profile that Tovar has trained is mainly girls with a high percentage of fat who do not feel comfortable with their physique and want to change it. Others have turned to her to improve her mental health.
David García is also a personal trainer. In his case, the profile that is most abundant in his training center are boys who want to get stronger or who have postural pain due to their sedentary lifestyle. The trainer reflects that exercising not only has benefits on a physical level, but also cognitively: it improves concentration, memory and attention, in addition to self-esteem. “Never punish your child by taking away the sport, because you are harming him,” adds the coach.
José Antonio Sevilla is the general director of Altafit, a chain with 80 gyms in Spain. He explains that teenagers are the profile that is growing the most in his gyms since the pandemic, but, above all, and the most important thing for him, is that they are the type of client that maintains the activity the most over time, and makes the least withdrawals. . “They are understanding what we professionals say, and that is that this has to be a habit of life, it is the key.” Registrations of those under 20 years of age have grown by 4% compared to other years. “What becomes is that young people have a willingness to exercise.”
“We are noticing an increase in the areas where bodybuilding is done, not only among teenagers, but in general there is a very good trend. Society is becoming aware that strength training is almost the most important,” adds the general director of Altafit.
They have also noticed an increase in teenage girls. “Years ago they only came to do a little cardio and some collective classes, and although we still have that type of user, we are increasingly finding a girl who also does bodybuilding, and for us it is something very positive, because we see that “They have understood how important it is to train strength.”
Alejandro lives in his gym with other people his age, with whom he has created relationships. And he also has friends outside of him who do bodybuilding. Since he does it he feels that his self-esteem and confidence have improved, as well as his mood. “Now I have higher expectations for my physique, but my goal is still to feel good about myself.” He feels more disciplined, and thinks that exercise should no longer disappear from his life. “Going to the gym has made me better in all aspects.”
Those under 20 years of age show greater loyalty to sports centers, according to the Eighth report on Low Cost Gyms in Spain (2020). The study indicates that on average 27% of people who go to gyms tend to stay there over time, however, in the case of adolescents this percentage is higher, reaching 39%.
“Young people have incorporated exercise into their routine, and that has caused the number of registrations to increase. It is no longer a specific issue like years ago when they went for the bikini operation, now the trend is more constant,” analyzes Alberto García, member of FNEID. He declares that this increase is not only being seen in low-cost gyms, which is where this profile tends to go most, but also in those with a higher cost. “More and more people are becoming aware of the importance of physical activity,” he says. “Sport is a window of fresh air on a physical and mental level, which can help a lot with the psychological problems that are being detected in adolescents.”
Supplementation, yes or no?
Most of the statements about nutritional aspects in sport are not proven in pediatric age, but rather extrapolated from studies in adults and, for this reason, action must be taken individually and with specialized advice. Fernando García Pérez-Sevillano, member of the Spanish Society of Endocrinology and Nutrition (SEEN), explains that so far no adverse effects have been found in the intake of supplements such as protein and creatine, but their intake should still be supervised. “There are many other supplements with little or no scientific evidence, such as glutamine or carnitine,” he emphasizes.
Creatine is a natural substance produced by the body that is used as a supplement to increase the amount of energy available to muscles, while protein is one of the essential macronutrients for building and repairing tissues.
A study published in 2023 shows that the prevalence of nutritional supplement consumption in adolescents is almost 24%. The research was carried out by the Valme University Hospital (Seville), and 625 students with an average age of 14 years were surveyed. The report concludes that a high percentage of adolescents are unaware of the indication, composition and correct dosage of nutritional supplements. The majority of consumers are men who have been advised by their families/friends, and ingest creatine and protein with the aim of improving their physique.
Fernando García comments that protein supplementation is indicated for people who do not meet protein intake requirements through their usual diet. “The most common are people who exercise or in older people to prevent the loss of their muscle mass.” In the case of creatine, he indicates that it is recommended for people who perform high-intensity sports, such as weightlifters or athletes. “In my office, I increasingly receive more young boys who are interested in the topic of supplementation,” says the nutritionist, whose patient profile usually includes boys aged 16 and older, with slim builds who want to increase their muscle mass.
Manuel Moreno, pediatrician, indicates that an excess of both fat-soluble vitamins and proteins can cause health risks. “Intake must always be supervised,” he emphasizes. Candela Hornero
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