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Weight Training and Teenage Girls: What You Need to Know

I have read countless headlines in the news, from all over the country, supporting the right for girls to have the same opportunities in sports as boys. While I fully support this equal-opportunity movement, it doesn't mean that girls and boys should train in the same way.

My philosophy on youth sports training for boys or girls does not include weight training. It can be especially damaging for growing women, and there are plenty of safer and effective methods to develop strength, which, do not involve weight training. Learn more about my thoughts on this topic below.

The Appeal of Weight Training for Teens

Regardless of if they play a sport of not, many teens are tempted to begin weight training because of the aesthetic appeal offered by a slim physique and well-defined muscles (particularly for boys.) Teens generally will consider how they look over what they need to do, the safety of their choices, in order to achieve that look. This is where we as parents, coaches, and trainers come in to help steer them in the right direction.

Unfortunately, I have discovered the many detrimental effects of weight training for teen girls first-hand, respectively in the athletes I train, as well as personally.

The Impact on Growth

One of the main reasons I discourage weight training for teen girls is because of the possibility of epiphyseal plate injuries. The epiphyseal plate, commonly known as the "growth plate," is a key element in bone growth, and it doesn't reach full maturity until a person reaches the age of 19 to 21. While injuries to this plate aren't extremely common, if they occur (and weight training at an early age is one of the main reasons this injury occurs) it can result in one arm or leg being longer than the other, stunted or abnormal growth, among other issues. Without proper guidance, and many teens hit the gym without their parents or a trainer, the chance of a growth plate injury becomes greater.

In addition, knee injuries in female athletes are escalating at an alarming rate. In fact, it is the fastest growing injury rate in young athletes, and overtraining or improper training with weights, can cause tissue irregularities and weakness in joints and limbs.

The Issue of Increased Testosterone

Another problem I have discovered related to girls who weight train at a young age is the increase in testosterone production. The majority of the teens I coach are still going through puberty, which means their hormones are already erratic, at best. If you add weight training in the mix, it can result in a number of issues for young girls, including the increase in hair growth on undesirable parts of the body, reduction in calcium production, disruptions to their natural development (puberty), larger muscles, and more.

Keep in mind, we generate more testosterone as athletes, just as a side effect of playing our sport, without adding any extra muscle. Weight training creates new muscle, increases testosterone production even more in order to build and maintain that extra muscle, and increased testosterone can affect mood, weight, puberty, and fertility.

The Solution

Just because I don't believe weight training is the right option for teen girls (or boys, for that matter) it doesn't mean that exercise should be avoided altogether, especially for teen athletes. Safer, better options include cardiovascular exercises, such as biking and running, and body strength training, which combined are more than adequate for building power for any sport.


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