Strength, weight training starting out earlier, continuing later in life

Doug Gulasy
| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 2:00 p.m.

Chris Howard recalls the days when weightlifting came with age restrictions.

“When I was growing up, they didn't allow you to touch weights before you were 12 or 13,” said Howard, 43, a personal trainer at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and owner of C. Howard Fitness. “When you went down to the YMCA and had a membership, you weren't even allowed in the weight room areas.”

Today, researchers and doctors recognize benefits of strength and weight training for people of all ages.

“In years past, the emphasis has been on aerobic training — go out and run because running is the best thing,” said Ron DeAngelo, director of sports performance training at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine.

DeAngelo said UPMC starts children on official strength training as young as 10 or 11, though those programs may not include weightlifting.

Doctors and fitness experts say strength and weight training improve mobility, durability, help with weight loss and can stave off osteoporosis because using muscles helps stimulates bone growth.

Training should be done as part of a balanced fitness program.

“If you're just doing one (activity) versus another, that's typically when people start developing overuse-types of injuries,” said Dr. Sam Akhavan, orthopedics and sports medicine specialist at West Penn Allegheny Health Association.

Fitness experts advocate that people also aim for balance within weight training.

DeAngelo said people too often fall into bodybuilder routines: Back and biceps one day, chest and triceps the next, and legs the day after that.

DeAngelo recommends a 45-minute, twice-a-week workout that includes pushing and pulling motions — for example, pushups and rowing exercises — that work a person's legs, upper body and core.

Such well-rounded workouts can also reduce injuries.

“Every muscle has another muscle that it complements,” said FitnessQuest personal trainer John Onderick, who works in six area gyms. “You see a lot of shoulder injuries in the gym, for example. Most of that is because a lot of people are working their chest and their back.

“There's an imbalance that happens, and that just trickles on down. The next thing you know, you're walking down your steps carrying a basket of clothes, and your knee goes on you because all you've done is leg extensions and never hamstring movements.”

Akhavan and DeAngelo say people should visit a trainer or specialist before beginning weight training to find out what types of exercises are most beneficial.

The trainers said beginners would also benefit from training sessions when they join a gym to learn proper form.

“A trainer (will) show you form from the get-go,” said Ernie Therisod, owner and trainer at Achieve A-Nu-Yu in Polish Hill. “And then you're going to copy form. The first 30 to 60 days, you're learning form — how to do a proper lunge, how to do a proper squat.”

Howard said people should consider the potential long-term effects of not learning proper form.

“You could pay $300 and come in and meet with me six times (for an hour each), and I'll show you the proper form,” he said. “Or you could go out and try it on your own and get injured. Then you're going to miss work possibly, and depending on what type of benefit package you have, you might not be able to get paid. Is that worth the $300?”

Akhavan advises people to “start low and go slow” — avoid pushing yourself too early with higher weights.

Onderick said people often expect results quickly and get impatient.

“I think some people, after two weeks, they look in the mirror and say, ‘Why don't I look like the guy in the magazine?' ” he said.

Trainers said visible results often depend on other factors as well, such as genetics.

Howard said the last few months of the year are an opportune time to being a routine, because the last months of the year roll from one holiday to another.

“You could've done well the first 42 weeks of the year, and then the last 10 weeks, you gain four or five, or 10 pounds.

“So I always try to shine a light on telling people, ‘lift your weights (and) get your cardio in these last few months.'

“Because it's tough.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-8527 or

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