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What Are Some Dangers of Strength Training?

You may love the challenge of lifting, especially if you and your friends do it together. You'll definitely see results over a few months in your ability to progressively lift more weight. But there are a few things to look out for.

Because your bones, joints, and tendons are still growing and developing, it's easy to overdo it and strain or even permanently damage them. When you're in the middle of a strength-training session and something doesn't feel right to you, you feel pain, or if you hear or feel a "pop" when you're in the middle of a workout, stop what you're doing and have a doctor check it out before you resume training. It's possible you may need to modify your training or even stop lifting weights for a while to allow the injury to heal.

Another danger surrounding strength training is the use of anabolic steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs and preparations that supposedly help muscles develop. Steroid use is widespread in many sports — including football, swimming, biking, track and field, and baseball. But because many of their long-term effects on the body are still unknown (and because they are linked to health problems like cancer, heart disease, and sterility), resist the urge to try them. The benefit is definitely not worth the risk!

What Is a Healthy Routine?

If you take a few minutes to watch the guys and girls lift weights at your school, you'll see there are lots of different ways to train with weights. Try a few good basic routines that you can modify as you start to train harder later on.

If you're just starting out in the weight room, most fitness experts recommend you begin by training three sessions a week, ranging from 20 minutes to 1 hour (including warm-up and cool-down periods), allowing at least a day off between sessions. It's best to work only two or three muscle groups during each session. For example, you can work your leg muscles one day, your chest, shoulders, and triceps at the next session, and your back and biceps on the last.

Before you head for the weight bench, warm up your muscles by spending 5-10 minutes pedaling on a stationary bicycle or by taking a brisk walk around the gym. After finishing your workout, cool down by stretching all the major muscle groups to avoid injuries and keep your muscles flexible.

You can use many different exercises for each body part, but the basics — like bench presses, lat pull-downs, and squats — are great to start with. Learn proper technique first, without any added weight. Perform three sets of 8-10 repetitions (or reps) of each exercise, starting out with a light weight to warm up and increasing the weight slightly with the second and third sets. (Add more weight only after you can successfully perform 8-15 repetitions in good form.) Perform two to three different exercises for each body part to make sure you work each muscle in the group effectively.

Here are some basic rules to follow in strength training:

  1. Start with body weight exercises for a few weeks (such as sit-ups, pushups, and pull-ups) before using weights.
  2. Work out with weights about three times a week. Avoid weight training on back-to-back days.
  3. Warm up for 5-10 minutes before each session.
  4. Spend no more than 40 minutes in the weight room to avoid fatigue or boredom.
  5. Work more reps; avoid maximum lifts. (A coach or teacher can give you specifics based upon your needs.)
  6. Ensure you're using proper technique through supervision. Improper technique may result in injuries, particularly in the shoulder and back.
  7. Cool down for 5-10 minutes after each session, stretching the muscles you worked out.

Don't rely on strength training as your only form of exercise. You still need to get your heart and lungs working harder by doing some kind of additional aerobic exercise for a minimum of 20-30 minutes per session. Doctors recommend an hour a day of moderate to vigorous activity — so on days when you're not lifting weights, you may want to get more aerobic activity.

Strength training is a great way to improve strength, endurance, and muscle tone. But remember to start slowly, use proper form, avoid heavy weights, and increase workouts gradually to prevent injury. Just a few short sessions a week will really pay off — besides better muscle tone and definition, you may find that you have more energy and focus in both sports and school.

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