Let me preface this blog by stating the following: I am woefully ignorant about the sport of swimming. I don’t know if there are weight classes and I don’t know what the age divisions are. All I know is that skinny, though usually muscular in the upper-body, people do things in the water that my frame was not designed for.
Yesterday as I was changing clothes in the locker room at my local L.A. Fitness (folks, have you ever heard of cleaning the carpets and deodorizers?), there was a group of boys from a local high school in there. As I listened to them talk, it became apparent they were on some local swimming team and one of them was even wearing spandex shorts, which I didn’t know was standard swimming attire, but hey…different strokes for different folks. The boys appeared to range in age from 13 to perhaps 16. The youngest, was a tiny little fellow who couldn’t have been more than 4’ 7”. There was another boy in there who was probably 14 or 15 and he was pretty thin and close to my own height of 5′ 8″. Like I said, he was skinny; there were no telltale love handles…nothing to indicate that he was overweight in the slightest.
As I was changing, each of these boys hopped up on the scales (one of the worst indicators of true health if I ever saw one) and when this one skinny kid got up there, he yelled out, “125 lbs!?” Then, all his friends started jabbing him about his weight. One even went so far as to run back in the shower area blurting it out.
Now as I mentioned, I’m no expert on anything related to swimming, but I am pretty smart when it comes to boys’ and mens’ health. I know for instance, that at 14 or 15 years of age, the male body is starting to put on weight in the form of increased bone density as it prepares for the onslaught of male hormones that will significantly increase the boy’s muscle mass. And I know that in order for any of this to happen as it should, the body needs energy. And unless there’s a new form of energy out there that I don’t know about, food is the only way for that energy to be made available to said young boy’s body. I also happen to know that swimming, especially when not combined with an adequate weight training program, can actually have an adverse effect on the body. Water is the closest simulation that normally people have to being in space, and when in space, the body loses both muscle mass and bone density due to the lack of demands on it. This combination of lack of adequate caloric intake, coupled with an activity that burns whatever energy is available to it, and which does not stimulate lower-body musculature, is a recipe for disaster in teenagers.
Now, I know that girls have been told for years to stay thin and the media haven’t helped that, but truthfully, a young girl’s body doesn’t require the same caloric intake that a boy’s does (if you wanna argue this with me, just look up the caloric requirements of boys and girls of the same age).
So I say all of this only to point out to parents that we need to make sure that we keep an eye on our sons as much as we do our daughters. Fathers especially tend to dote on their daughters while allowing their sons to just “be”, assuming they’ll take care of themselves. But I would say that the pressure to win and to look good (at any cost) is especially prevalent in teens and it’s important that we set the right attitude about nutrition and health when they are young.
Then, when they are older and decide to ruin their joints with weight training (like I have), it’ll be their own decision and they’ll at least have a solid foundation to start from.