Q1: When is it safe for a child to start lifting weights? My son is 10 and wants to know when he can begin.
A: Weight training at a young age is not nearly the safety concern it’s made out to be, according to Brian Grasso, founder and CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association (www.iyca.org). “Parents often worry that strength training will damage growth plates and stunt height development,” he says, “but consider that running and jumping create significantly more ground reactive force than lifting a weight ever could.”
Solid technique is crucial from a safety perspective, though. “Priority No. 1 of any coach, parent or trainer working with youngsters should be teaching them how to produce force with proper form,” says Grasso. As with adults, technique should be perfected before any sort of external load is added. Just as you crawl before you walk, body-weight-only movements should come first: Think squats, lunges, pushups, pull-ups and burpees. Grasso recommends making the transition from unweighted to weighted exercises around age 9 (but even then, only about 20 percent of the time; the rest should be body weight only).
Just don’t try to substitute machinery for quality instruction. “Contrary to popular belief, using static machines instead of free weights doesn’t lessen the chance of injury,” says Grasso. “Machines can’t quite duplicate the same functional movements, and squatting and jumping are cornerstones to athletic activities and injury prevention.”
Q2: What foods, herbs or vitamins can I eat or take to decrease joint pain? I’d rather avoid NSAIDs like ibuprofen and aspirin.
A: I’m not a big fan of NSAIDs, either: nasty stuff with adverse effects such as gut and kidney damage. Luckily, there are plenty of health-promoting options that ease swelling. “Healthy fats are anti-inflammatory, especially the polyunsaturated fats that can be found in cold-water fish — salmon, cod and anchovies, for example — and raw nuts such as walnuts, almonds, and seeds like pumpkin and sunflower,” says Marie Winters, ND, a naturopathic physician at Two Rivers Naturopathy in Philadelphia. “Thai basil, rosemary and the spices in curries (especially ginger, turmeric and cayenne) are also anti-inflammatory.” Winters recommends checking out the supplement Zyflamend from New Chapter, which combines some of the spices above. (Zyflamend is what I take for my own occasionally creaky knees.) She also suggests a digestive enzyme called Wobenzyme, which helps mitigate joint inflammation when taken without food.
The list of natural remedies goes on. “There’s strong scientific evidence in favor of vitamin D3, willow bark and chondroitin sulfate for decreasing joint pain,” says Bryan P. Walsh, ND, a naturopath in Ellicott City, Md. “Another promising supplement is S-adenosylmethionine, or SAMe [pronounced ‘sam-EE’].” Work with your health practitioner to figure out appropriate dosages.
More important is determining why you’re suffering from joint pain in the first place, says Walsh. If it’s wear and tear, it might be a case of osteoarthritis, and the above recommendations will likely be helpful. If, on the other hand, the pain is caused by rheumatoid arthritis (where the immune system attacks the joints), you might require a more detailed treatment program.
Lastly, notes Walsh, a poor diet can cause a bodywide inflammatory reaction. He recommends doing an elimination diet for three weeks and noting how you feel as you add possible inflammatory agents (such as grains, soy and dairy) back in.
Q3: I’ve lost 50 pounds in the past eight months through diet and exercise, but now the skin in my lower abdomen is saggy. Is there something I can do to tighten it up?
A : When you lose a substantial amount of weight quickly, sometimes your skin’s elasticity can’t keep up with your shifting shape, explains Sandra I. Read, MD, a dermatologist in Washington, D.C. As you have likely discovered, these folds of stretched-out skin can chafe and cause discomfort, creating a downside to an otherwise celebratory experience. While your skin will likely tighten up further on its own, some experts say you can speed the process by focusing on your skin’s health: Up your intake of healthy fats and antioxidants, stay hydrated, and use moisturizer regularly (you can skip all the self-proclaimed miracle tightening creams, though). Read also suggests the following tactics:
1) Gently massage loose skin to increase circulation and deliver more nutrients to the area.
2) Build muscle to give the skin a firmer underlying structure and form.
3) Limit sun exposure — it thins skin and exacerbates sagging.
If you give these strategies a year and are still unhappy with the results, says Read, you may want to explore the idea of surgery to remove excess layers.
Fitness Fix: It’s All in the Wrist
Poor wrist flexibility can dramatically limit what exercises you’re able to do. Here’s how to bend them better.
Your wrists probably aren’t high on your list of body parts to stretch postworkout, but poor wrist flexibility can cause pain and interfere with being able to do key exercises, including cleans, front squats, planks, pushups, barbell overhead presses and dips. Adam T. Glass, chief trainer at Movement Minneapolis, competitive grip athlete and creator of the DVD Industrial Strength Grip (2010), works with his clients to develop a full, healthy range of motion in the hands and wrists. His first step is assessment.
10-Second Wrist Test
While standing, let your arms hang down at your sides, thumbs forward and fingers straight. Then check these two movements on each arm.
Flexion: Bending only from the wrist and keeping your hand flat, move your fingertips toward your body. A typical range of motion is near 90 degrees.
Extension: Keeping your fingers straight, bend your wrist straight outward from your body. Once again, the typical range of motion is near 90 degrees.
If you already possess good range of mobility, you don’t need to bother with stretching. For many people, though, extension is an issue, which can negatively affect every exercise mentioned above. If you have room for improvement, start by moving your wrists through their full range of motion a few times a day, gently helping them into position. It is, however, possible to overstretch the connective tissues of the wrist and destabilize the joint if you stretch too aggressively, says Glass, so ease into it.
He also suggests doing the old-time circus strongman exercise at right — “not as boring as a simple stretch!” — which will develop strength in the extension and flexion patterns, increase wrist mobility, add muscle to your forearms, and dramatically improve your grip strength.
Plate-Pinch Reverse Curls
• Grasp the edges of two small weight plates (2.5 to 10 pounds) with a pinch grip, where your fingers are on one side and your thumb is on the other. (The pinch grip will be taxing on the thumb, so make sure to clamp down tightly.)
• Rotate your hand so your knuckles face forward.
• Initiate the movement by extending the wrist backward, then perform a biceps curl, keeping the knuckles facing the shoulder. Continue to extend the wrist backward throughout the movement.
• Slowly lower your forearm and repeat until you slow down or experience excessive tension in your arm. (That’s a set.)Don’t force the movement.
• For most people, three to five sets will be plenty. Advanced trainees can work up to eight to 10 sets.