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Weight Lifting and Strength Training Tips for Teens

"I want to lift weights to be stronger," says "Ella" (not her real name), 17. "But I don't want to look like a football player!"

"Hey, I do want to look like a football player," says "Josh," 14. "I'm going out for the team next year and need to bulk up."

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There are good reasons, although they are different for Ella and Josh, why both teens should do strength training: it builds muscle strength, tones the body, builds endurance, develops stronger bones and even promotes weight loss. But they need to do strength training properly to avoid injury. Here are some questions, answers, and tips about strength training:

Q.What Is Strength Training?

A. Strength training is a program of exercises that increases muscle strength and endurance. Strength training is not necessarily the same thing as power lifting or even weight lifting. While power lifters use heavy weights to build large muscles, people who strength train may use lighter weights or resistance and multiple repetitions. You can do strength training with weight machines or free weights. But you can also do it with resistance bands, ankle or wrist weights, or using your own body weight as you would with a pushup.

Q. Is Strength Training Dangerous?

A. Strength training is not dangerous if you do it with proper supervision and instruction. It's a safe and effective way to strengthen muscles (including the heart),  look more toned, and help control weight. It also helps strengthen bones. But because teens are still developing, it's important to get an OK from your doctor and to seek professional instruction to make sure you do it correctly.

Q. Do Girls Get Big Muscles With Strength Training?

A. It would be tough for a girl to get big muscles with strength training -- unless they do a lot of it. Girls produce less testosterone (male hormone) than guys, so their muscle size builds less rapidly. Guys who've started puberty will be able to build bigger muscles lifting weights.

Q. Is Strength Training Aerobic?

A. Endurance exercise like walking, swimming, or biking is aerobic, as your muscles use oxygen more efficiently to strengthen your heart and lungs. Aerobic activity increases your heart rate and keeps it up for an extended period of time. Strength training is usually anaerobic (meaning "without oxygen"), as your muscles work against the weight.

Q. What if I Don't Have a Gym Membership?

A. You don't have to go to a gym to do strength training. Teens can use resistance bands from a sporting goods store, free weights, and do water-resistance exercises. You can even use cans of vegetables or fruits from your kitchen pantry as free weights!

Q. Should I Use Heavy Weights?

A. Don't use heavy weights yet! Teens should start out with lighter weights, proper form, and more repetitions. A good rule of thumb is to start with a weight you can easily lift 10 times, with the last two repetitions being increasingly difficult. For some teens, this might be 1 pound to 2 pounds. If you are strong and fit, you might start at 15 pounds to 20 pounds. When lifting, move the weights in a smooth, steady motion. Avoid jerky movements and sudden drops.

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