July 15, 2011

SLU AT Program Director and Medical Director Quoted in Suburban Journal Story

Heavy hitters: The sizing up of student athletes

By Sarah Baraba
Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2011 12:00 am

If you think linemen opposing your kid on the football field look a lot heftier than when you were in high school, you're probably right. Student athletes are getting bigger.

"What's happening is a trend, that to survive in a sport, you have to be bigger and stronger, otherwise you're at a disadvantage," said Anthony Breitbach, director of the athletic training program at St. Louis University.

Year-round training, beefier competition and tougher recruitment requirements are contributing to the sizing-up of student athletes. Consider recently graduated Granite City High School football right tackle and defensive player Casey Krohne. He's 6 feet, 4 inches — and 305 pounds.

Krohne said he worked to get so big for a simple reason: it gives him an advantage on the gridiron.
"No one plays a sport to lose," he said. "So you do what you need to do to get better, and in the sport of football, a large part of it is your size and strength."

There are also real downsides. The race to pump up can mean young players build muscle incorrectly, lose flexibility and even become injured. In rare cases, students are turning to supplements and steroids for speedy boosts in size. Breitbach said it's changing the way the games are played — and maybe even hurting kids.

"What you're seeing are athletes with less finesse, less skill," he said, "and more reliance on athleticism for success."

All sports, all the time

For today's student competitors, the last game of the season doesn't mark the last practice. An increasing number of high school and club teams are lifting weights and endurance training well into the off-season and it's adding to the bulk-up.

"Sports are pretty much year-round nowadays," said Waterloo High School softball coach Sarah Renner. Knowing numbers of her players are already in the weight room during for other sports, she's started to focus off-season work outs on mechanics rather than strength.

The workout regiment has spilled over to young kids — even elementary school students. Krohne said he started lifting weights and running in eighth grade to match his competition.

"You realize when you're a lot younger you need to do that stuff," he said. "Every one wants to be 'that guy' and be huge."

Coaches say their players try to emulate what has proven successful. In many cases, that's muscles.

"Athletes today know just by watching the professionals that they have to do anything that gives them an edge," said Collinsville head volleyball coach Tracy Plagemann.

At the same time, size has also become a draw for college recruiters. That's because stats on paper — scoring averages, number of tackles, but also weight and height — are often the first details a recruiter learns about a prospect, long before he or she is seen in real life. It's a make-or-break situation.

"When you get to those upper echelon schools, they look at size before they get in the door," said Dan Rose, Waterloo High School's head football coach. Stiff scholarship competition and penniless pockets are driving students to do everything they can to beef up.

"People are only able to do so much and kids do look for artificial means to get bigger," said Granite City High School Athletic Director Daren DePew. "As an athletic department, we try to encourage kids to do things the right way, and for the most part they do."

Coaches and officials agree that student athletes make up a huge portion of the supplement market, relying on the substances for a quick fix. In rarer circumstances, some are using anabolic steroids at a huge risk.

"They are potentially very harmful to someone who is not done growing," said Dr. Tyler Wadsworth, of the Center for Orthopedic and Sports Medicine at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Belleville. He said muscle boosting steroids can cause adolescents' growth plates to close, prematurely stopping growth.

Bigger isn't necessarily better

While being the biggest kid on the field may catch a college recruiter's eye — it isn't necessarily helping out the team.

"The bigger you are, the more energy it takes to make you move," Wadsworth said. "If someone is big and bulky and they're in a position that makes them move, that's going to be a problem."

Though many kids are bulking up on muscle, others are just trying to increase size by whatever means possible — and some are becoming obese. High blood pressure, muscle strains and ankle injuries are all effects of excess poundage on athletes. Sports medicine experts say many youth athletes mistake "beach muscles" with the muscles that help them out in their sport.

"The muscles that make you a good athlete aren't the ones you can see in the mirror," Breitbach said.

Coaches stressed without guidance, young athletes may overbuild muscles that can hinder their game.

"We've run into kids that are training in ways that do not help their sport and in some cases actually cause injury," DePew said. "It's something we as coaches and athletic trainers have to educate kids on."

Many coaches said they give their players sport-specific weight training programs that target the muscles they'll need for their position. For the motivated athlete however, the demand for size is a top priority.

"I don't think it's possible," Krohne said, "to be too big or too strong."

Contact reporter Sarah Baraba 618-344-0264 ext. 105

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