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High school girls turning to strength training for extra advantage

Young female athletes are realzing weight lifting isn't just for boys

Posted: July 28, 2014 8:49 p.m.
Updated: July 28, 2014 8:49 p.m.

Saugus softball player Cayla Kessinger demonstrates proper squat form in the Saugus High School weight room on Monday. She is one of a growing number of female athletes beginning strength training in high school.

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Head out to any local high school this summer and there’s a good chance you’ll see football players lifting in the weight room.

It’s part of a strength training program designed to prepare the young men for the grueling, physical season to come.

But less common is seeing girls in these local weight rooms.

There’s a number of reasons for the discrepancy, most of which, according to local trainers, is associated with a lack of knowledge.

Many girls associate strength training with the idea of bulking up and getting bigger.

And of course, injuries due to a lack of proper education in the weight room cause young girls to shy away from the activity.

Some think high school is too early for female athletes to begin strength training programs; others believe if structured correctly, it’s never too early.

“For me it’s specific to each individual,” said West Ranch girls soccer coach Jared White. “If they are coordinated enough, have good balance, and have been taught how to properly lift without injuring themselves, no reason why they should start lifting and strength training when they are freshman.”

What most people do agree on, though, is the importance of proper education in strength training.

If you’re going to do it, make sure you’re doing it right.

Most female athletes do not engage in strength training to get larger, as those football players in the weight room may be doing.

And the misconception that bulking up is what weight lifting is for, can lead female athletes away from the gym.

“At first I was worried,” said Saugus softball player Cayla Kessinger, who began strength training at the age of 14. “OK, now I’m going to go and look like a bodybuilder and that’s weird. But the more I started, the more I actually noticed a difference in my body. I wasn’t gaining muscle to the point football players do, walking around like macho man. I didn’t notice that at all. I noticed more tone in my body and more tone in my muscles — the shape stayed the same.”

What’s most important, is that the program be structured toward the female athlete.

“Right now you get so many people that are being taught the wrong things and they get to college — especially female athletes — they get to college in the weight room and they don’t know what to do,” said trainer Mike Yudin, who has worked with, among others, local softball standout and UCLA commit Maddy Jelenicki since she was a freshman.

Part of the reason for that is that there are simply more opportunities for men.

More and more female athletes are picking up weight training, but it is still seen as a male dominated, body builder mentality industry.

“If you look at some of the programs out there, they’re based on football,” said Sha Ali, program director for Pure Sports Performance. “So they look at what’s important for football and try to apply that across the board.”

Ali brought his organization to Santa Clarita to help expand training for females. Pure Sports works exclusively with female athletes.

“We look at it from female athletes being different,” Ali said. “Everything from hormonally to bone structure to muscles.”

But with the amount of days female athletes are spending on the fields and courts nowadays, sometimes it’s simply just too difficult to find the time for strength training.

“For me, I do not do any weight training for my high school teams,” White said. “In order for strength programs to be effective and efficient, they have to be designed in cycles specific to which part of the season it is.

“For example, strength programs in preseason are different than season and postseason. The problem with high school is these girls play club soccer year around. So my preseason program design for high school interferes with their club soccer season program.”

And because of that, coaches like White are worried that adding additional routines could be too much for young girls.

“I also think it can be too much on their bodies to have to do club soccer and conditioning 10 months out of the year,” White said. “And then high school soccer and strength training for two months with no time off whatsoever.”

If the girls can make the time, though, trainers tend to agree that a proper strength training regime will undoubtedly have tangible benefits on the field.

“If you’re doing the right things all the time, you’re only going to get better at whatever sport you’re doing,” Yudin said. “If I have Player A or Player B and one is working harder than the  other and they’re both at the same talent level, the one that’s working harder is going to be better.”

Kessinger, who parlayed her success into a Division I scholarship at the University of Missouri, noticed tangible benefits on the softball field, saying her quickness and agility grew stronger, and her bat had more pop.

And her teammates are taking notice.

“A lot of people asked me when I first started, they said I’ve noticed a difference in you and I said ‘yes, I’ve been training and I’ve been lifting weights,’” Kessinger said. “I’ve referred so many people to my trainers and lot of people I know on my teams have tried it and they liked it.

“A lot of people do ask me about it because I talk about it a lot. It has helped me so much I want other people to know and try this and see how it works for you.”

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