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Bodybuilding for boys: How young is too young?

July 19, 2011 at 9:57 AM ET

How young is too young to get buff?

The number of 6- to 11-year-olds joining gyms have doubled since 2005, according to one recent study. Some are there not just to get fitter and stronger, but to get bigger -- washboard abs, buns of steel and bulging biceps are all the rage among teen and even pre-teen boys.

Related story: Child bodybuilding is becoming an industry  

Experts draw a distinction between strength training -- light weights and many repetitions -- and body-building or power-lifting, which is all about growing big muscles and lifting the heaviest weight possible.

Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine doctor at the Hospital for Special surgery, says strength training is great for kids but powerlifting, not so much. 

"Trying to max out on a bench press set, that's a disaster for a growing kid," Metzl said.

But, especially in this age of worries about childhood obesity, what do you do if your pre-teen wants to get buff? Do you try to get them into a gym... gently steer them toward strength training instead of bodybuilding... or should kids that age just be playing outside? What do you think?

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