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Should Your Child Train to be a Champion Athlete

The best time for future Olympic athletes to start training is before they start puberty.Having large strong muscles makes you a better athlete, and starting training before puberty enlarges the bones. Muscles growth is limited by the size of the bones on which they attach.

The larger the bone, the stronger the muscle. The larger and stronger your muscles, the harder you can hit a ball. Children who start to play tennis before they go into puberty have larger bones in the arm that holds the racquet. Their tennis arm bones are larger than those who start to play tennis later in life.

Lifting weights during growth does not prevent children from growing to their full potential height. Bones grow from growth centers that are weakest part of bone, but strength training during growth does not damage these growth centers. Children who lift weights with good supervision do not suffer more injuries than adults.

We used to worry that growing large muscles would make you musclebound and interfere with coordination, but with increased strength comes increased speed and coordination. The best time for future Olympians to start training is while their bones are still growing.Lance Armstrong is arguably the greatest endurance athlete of all time.

Edward F. Coyle, professor at the University of Texas, has tested him in his laboratory several times over the years. We can be certain that Lance has extraordinary genetic attributes.

A laboratory measure of a person's genetic ability to compete successfully in endurance events is called the VO2max, the maximum amount of blood the heart can pump in a given time span. Lance's value was 6 liter/min (expressed per body weight as 75-85 ml/kg/min). Of the hundreds of athletes he has tested, Coyle has found only two other athletes in that range (Journal of Applied Physiology, March 17, 2005.

) To have great endurance, (and a high VO2max) you have to have a large heart that has to be able to pump huge amounts of blood with each beat. You also have to have a dense collection of blood vessels to deliver oxygen to the muscles and the types of muscle fibers that can generate, power efficiently and resist fatigue.This doesn't mean that training is not important. An athletic, lean 20 year old usually has a maximum oxygen uptake of around 40-50. If he stops exercising, it may drop to 30. If Lance becomes a couch potato, his VO2max would drop, but only to about 65.

That means that he would still be able to beat most bicycle racers, even when he stops training.Now we know that if you want your child to grow up to be a champion athlete, he or she must have the right genes, choose the right sport and train very hard in that sport from an early age. With few exceptions, the time of multiple-sport athletes is gone. Champion gymnasts, runners, swimmers, and power athletes usually start training before age 10 and specialize in their chosen sport 12 months a year.Before you expose your child to such intense specialization that it limits his other interests, it is reasonable for you to see how he compares to other children at the same age and experience. A test of VO2max may help you decide if your child is spending his energies in the right place; if the base VO2max is less than 40, he has little chance of being a world-class athlete in an endurance sport.

.Dr. Gabe Mirkin has been a radio talk show host for 25 years and practicing physician for more than 40 years; he is board certified in four specialties, including sports medicine. Read or listen to hundreds of his fitness and health reports at http://www.DrMirkin.

com.Free weekly newsletter on fitness, health and nutrition.

By: Gabe Mirkin, M.D.

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