My brother coaches high school track, sprinters specifically. He was recently telling me about one of his frustrations, that the girls won’t lift weights. He told me that they are concerned about ‘bulking up too much’. This was appalling to me. As someone who ran track and lifted weights throughout high school and college, I can not believe that in this decade, in this century, in this age of information that these girls can have such an attitude. If this were a group of girls who were not athletes I guess I would not have been as surprised but I expect more from girls who are willing to commit their afternoons and weekends to sporting events. It makes me sad and angry that we, as a society, can’t seem to get past this concept that the ideal female body image is one of slenderness. It seems as though we are clinging more and more tightly to these false images of health and beauty even as we become a nation plagued by obesity. The girls on my brother’s team surely are not obese, but the fact that they cling to a physical ideal of slenderness and avoid the possibility of building a muscular body in spite of the fact that it will help them to run faster and avoid injury, says to me that we have a lot of work to do in educating our young people about health and well-being.
Strength training should be an essential part of anyone’s fitness routine. The ACSM has published guidelines for strength training for adults and has emphasized the importance of maintaining strength and muscle mass in older adults but another group that would benefit greatly from strength training is teenage girls. Strength training can be done by lifting weights, doing calisthenics such as push-ups, taking pilates classes or certain forms of yoga such as ashtanga or ‘power yoga’ classes. Any form of strengthening for teenagers would be good but weight training can offer additional benefits important for young women.
Reasons Teenage Girls Should Lift Weights:
Improve Bone Density - All young women should know that bone density peaks at about age 26. So teenage girls who lift weights can maximize their ‘bone bank’ and slow the progression on bone loss and perhaps prevent osteoporosis. It can be difficult to convince a girl to do something that might be helpful 50 years in the future but if they know anyone, especially someone in their family who’s body has been wrecked by osteoporosis, they should know that there is something they can do now to avoid the same fate.
Increase Metabolism - Lifting weights helps to shift body mass to a higher amount of lean mass (muscle and bone) and a lower body fat percentage. This allows a person to burn more calories throughout the day, making it less likely that they will gain unwanted pounds and more likely that they will maintain a lean figure.
Improved Posture - By strengthening ‘core’ muscles and muscles of the back and shoulders, it is easier to stand upright. Improved posture is associated with more efficient alignment of the skeleton, better function of the vital organs and fewer problems with chronic pain and repetitive stress injuries. But perhaps even more compelling for young ladies... good posture looks makes you look good!
Learn Anatomy - If a teen has any interest in going into the health care field, they’ll need to learn anatomy. Whether she wants to be a doctor, nurse or xray technician, she’ll have a head start if she knows her pec press from her deltoid flies. And if she aspires to be a physical therapist (an excellent choice!), she should not even think about applying to PT school unless she has spent at least some time learning how to lift weights!
Improve Athletic Performance and Decrease Injuries - This is especially relevent for female athletes. A sensible, specific weight lifting program helps to improve running speed, jumping and throwing ability, agility and power. It will also prevent injuries such as muscle strains and tendonitis. One study of high school soccer players showed that 26% of students who did strength training had an injury, compared to 74% of students who did not do any strength training.
It will NOT bulk you up! - Some body types are more naturally muscular than others so some people are more likely to show muscle tone. But even a guy who is genetically predisposed to a muscular type of body still has to do a LOT of training to put on significant muscle bulk.
The bottom line is that all teenage girls should be doing some kind of strength training. Female athletes will benefit most from a well-designed free weight program. Non-athletes may get more out of pilates or yoga but all young women should understand regardless of the size or shape of one’s body, strengthening will make you healthy. It can make you strong not only physically, but mentally as well. Love your bodies for their own unique shapes and appreciate all that it can do for you!