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Crowded Room

Weight Training Isn't Just for Footbal Players Anymore and Some Schools Don't Have the Facilities or Personnel to Handle the Increased Load


Tustin senior Cindy Stuck believes her aquatic performances this season will be influenced more by time spent training on land rather than in the pool.

Stuck, a driver on the girls' water polo team and a distance swimmer, is one of a growing number of high school athletes, particularly girls, who have turned to weightlifting for a competitive edge.

Three times a week for a couple of hours each day, Stuck hits the Tillers' weight room under the bleachers at Northrup Field to pump some of the same iron used by her football-playing classmates.

"Dry-land weight training just makes things in the pool seem easier and makes me swim faster," she said.

Fueled by competition for college scholarships, increased demand from the general student population and continued growth in the number of girls participating in sports, high school weightlifting has become popular with more than only gridiron hopefuls.

But an increase in the number of students turning to weight training has also created problems. Overcrowding, poorly maintained equipment, unsupervised weightlifting and a lack of adequately trained instructors has the potential to do more harm than good.

"We see so many athletes coming to us who are doing the wrong things," said Ken Vick, director of Sports Performance, a Manhattan Beach-based training and sports medicine facility that consults with 25 Southern Section high schools. "Coaches think it's important, especially with the explosion of girls' sports, but many are not trained in how to be a good weightlifting coach."

According to national figures released by the Fitness Products Council, use of free weights by all males and females 6 years of age or older increased 127% to 42.8 million participants from 1987 to 1996, the last period when statistics were available. During the same time, the number of females who lifted free weights more than doubled to 16.8 million.

That trend is being mirrored in high schools, according to Harvey Newton, executive director of the National Strength and Conditioning Assn. It has also added more demands on school weight rooms.

"What we see more and more are high school coaches indicating to us that there is steady use of weight rooms by other classes throughout the day," Newton said. "There's a greater demand to weight train by students who are not athletes than there has been in the past."

Contributing to the pressure on weight-training facilities is the Southern Section's encouragement of off-season lifting by all athletes.

"It's not a statistic we keep, but we're not aware of any program that doesn't have weight rooms," Southern Section associate commissioner Bill Clark said. "You've got girls involved now and it gives them an edge, particularly in sports like shotputting and other strength sports. They're all weight training now,"

At most schools, football teams have been given priority in weight rooms because of long-standing traditions. In many cases schools have been forced to add facilities to ease overcrowding.

"It used to be that you would get your jocks and jockettes in early or late in the day and not worry about the room the rest of the time," Newton said. "But now, kids want to be in the weight rooms. In many cases it's being taken as an elective. At schools where football is king, there won't be much time for anyone else."

Certified strength coaches such as Stephanie Ciarelli, a walk-on coach at Huntington Beach High, believe weight training in other sports has become so important that schools have a responsibility to provide all athletes with the same benefits.

"Weightlifting has always had the stereotype that it belonged only to football or it was a sport for big people," Ciarelli said. "Well, it isn't that way anymore. For both boys and girls, strength and endurance is vital for every sport."

Newton agrees. Next month, his association anticipates publishing a position paper that he believes will justify why every U.S. high school should have a full-time, certified strength coach.

"We know all sports benefit from resistance training," Newton said, "so why not have one person on staff who can interface and design custom workouts to avoid training problems for athletes and benefit all sporting teams?"

Of course, with schools relying heavily on walk-on coaches, Newton's wishes are not likely to come true.

Arron Retterer, a certified athletic trainer at IntenseCity Sports Medicine Institute of Irvine, said schools such as Huntington Beach, which have weight-training supervisors who can tailor individual workouts to fit swimmers and soccer players alike, will benefit in the long run.

"As athletes, particularly girls, get more competitive, they will look for a way to give them an edge," Retterer said. "What works for football and other proven sports doesn't necessarily work for every sport. These other athletes need workouts that are better for their sport."

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