My Kids Will NOT Lift Weights!

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When I speak to the parents of prepubescent kids and kids going through puberty I get asked a lot of questions. One question/comment that stands out to me as the most common thought from the parents is, “my kid shouldn’t be lifting weights, it is too DANGEROUS and they are not done GROWING yet.” Now to the person that just sees lifting weights as the stereotypical meat head-ish driven, literal just lifting of weights, I can see how this statement or thought comes across their mind. Here I will give you some information as to why lifting weights can provide much more than just the effect of making bigger muscles but also a bunch of other awesome by-products that are priceless when it comes to sport and life in general. Here are some of the main topics I like to discuss with parents that are apprehensive to allow their child to strength train.


Point 1

A big concern from parents is the thought that lifting weights will stunt their kids’ physical growth. To actually stunt a kids’ growth you have to do some serious damage to the physis, commonly known as the growth plates in the bones. For this to happen the person administering the workout program would have to throw out all good judgement and experience when it pertains to technique, loading, intensity, and frequency just to name a few. An experienced strength coach can properly appropriate all of those variables so there is little to no issue with negative side effects from the training, and certainly nothing that will lead to the child not reaching their full genetic potential when it comes to bone structure and height. Sometimes people will rebut with, “but look at how short gymnasts are Kyle, and I see so many big strong muscle guys that are relatively short, this must have been from lifting too much weight or training too hard too soon.” This thought couldn’t be further from the truth. Saying that is kind of like saying to a basketball player, “wow, basketball must have made you really tall!” and most people know this is a silly comment to make but don’t use the same logic when it comes to other sports and/or body types. Most high level gymnasts (or ones that continue after puberty) were already going to be the height they got to, it is just that either someone at an earlier stage in their life (someone with experience in said sport, like gymnastics or powerlifting) saw the potential the person had cause they had the body type of many great high performers in said sport. Just like when you see a super tall kid in high school and someone tells him he’d be potentially good at basketball and he goes and does just that, the same applies to the young gymnast. Someone saw the body type (maybe even knows what the parents genetics are like) and says, “Hey, you have the perfect body type of this sport, let’s make you a champion.”


Point 2

Now if parents understood force production and transfer they would understand that when your kids play sports they are already lifting weights, even though you don’t see weights in their hands, on their back or attached to their body somehow. But I promise you when your child sprints down the football field for a huge tackle, or a huge block off the line, or is fighting for a puck in the corner, or is frantically changing directions in a badminton match, or is jumping as high as they can, such as in a basketball game, they ARE lifting weights.   The gym is this nice place where we can control as many variables as possible to achieve a certain goal. When it comes down to the meat and potatoes of all sports and lifting weights, it is all about force production and force transfer from the ground, through the body and into whatever player or implement the person is trying to exert their will upon ( this could be anything from overcoming gravity all the way to pulling an eighteen wheeler).   So when the basketball player is jumping plyometrically to make a play, or a football player is fighting for position on the line against an opposing player or two, or when the badminton player is changing directions with tons of vigor countless times in a match, you better bet your bottom dollar that a scientist could come in and measure the amount of forces exerted in whatever plane of motion the player is being stressed in. You could then equate that to a certain load. I am not saying to teach prepubescent kids to lift maximal weights but teaching kids how to properly lift weights and coordinate movements that they have to perform in any sport (squat, bend, lunge, push, pull, twist, and any form of gait. Also the complexity of any combinations of those movements) is highly beneficial. Teaching them how to coordinate these movements in a controlled environment such as a gym with an experienced strength coach will seriously advance their game. If a child learns how to squat properly and is eventually given load to overcome and can coordinate that well, the amount of force production, transfer and all around resiliency will go up giving them a potentially higher jump, faster sprint, etc compared to that of their opponents.


Point 3

Now I want to finally talk about the mental and physical resiliency by-product kids receive after sometime of lifting weights. On the mental resiliency side of things, if a kid is taught by an experienced strength coach they will slowly be taught to push through what were at times mental barriers (this could be via technical breakthroughs or getting through a tough set or setting a new personal record and many more). The child will be able to learn from this and call upon when their “back is against the ropes” in whatever sport they play. Thus giving them an easier time digging deep to overcome more than what their opponents can overcome. When a kid has a bad day in the gym and nothing goes the way they wanted and they feel weaker than normal and then come back the next day and have a much better performance, something awesome happens. They learn to take that experience onto the field with them and even if they lose on a play or a game or even a season, they can know that there is always the next play, game or season to make it better and learn. This level of mental resiliency is needed in all sports and in life in general because at sometime we will all be pushed down onto our asses and beaten, but do you know what to do at that point and how to conduct yourself at that point. Learning to lift weights as a kid can give you a head start on most of the people in your generation, whether through sports, school, and/or future employment. The physical resiliency side of it comes from the adaption process the body and all the connective tissue goes through during training in a controlled environment. An experienced strength coach will not only train their athlete to be resilient in “optimal positions or planes of motion” but also in “less than optimal positions” (progression is everything!! and when I speak of stressing “less than optimal positions”, that statement couldn’t be more true) so that WHEN, not IF, but WHEN the athlete is exposed to the less than optimal position in said sport their bodies are more ready to take the beatings and essentially just roll with the punches with much less chance of injury.


Final Point

I keep repeating either good or responsible strength coach or trainer because it really does make all the difference. The outcome can be the complete opposite without an engaged, experienced, and responsible strength coach. The gym is the most controlled environment possible. The main variables at play are the athletes’ brain and the inanimate object (barbell, medicine ball, etc) with little to no room to get hurt. On most playing fields or courts you have at least one other players brain to worry about (for example: is my opponent going to try to outrun me, cut me off, take my legs out, just play the ball, hit the ball down the line or make me change directions again) any one of those decisions can have a different outcome on what your athlete does or how they react. All of this ups the chances of injury, so in all fairness, the gym under proper supervision is always the safest place for the child athlete to train. If a child athlete is shown and given the tools to learn and what to learn from specifically, the gym and lifting weights can be one of the smartest and rewarding decisions you and your child have EVER made when it comes to every aspect of their life.


Everyone NEEDS to Strength Train


If you look back to our society anywhere from 80 to 1000 years in the past, it’s plainly evident that we’re weak when compared to our ancestors. The main reason for this sad state of affairs is a little invention known as the chair, coupled with the general need to make everything easier for ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I love to chill out and sit as much as the next guy – but not without training hard, and more importantly, training smart. This blog entry is mainly focused on what happens when we sit down (also known as ‘get weak’) for most of our lives.

If you have major imbalances among your muscles and bones that make it extremely taxing to maintain proper alignment, and ultimately make it harder to maintain homeostasis when it comes to posture, you, my friend, are a weak person. And it’s the imbalances’ fault. And your fault for developing them.
I target the chair as the culprit because it puts our bodies in a position of flexion, and most of us are in the seated position all day. The entire spine and many joints that act on the muscles in the anterior chain of the body are pulled into an undesirable, flexed position. Being in this position for a prolonged time is the equivalent of keeping a muscle in a constant shortened position; although you may not feel it flexing, you can bet the muscle is on and this will (over time) make the muscle rest in that shortened position. Think about it: How long during the day do most people function in the flexion position? Let’s start at night when you go to sleep. Most of us sleep in a position of flexion. Brushing your teeth in the morning? Position of flexion. Eating breakfast? Driving to work? Sitting at work? Position of flexion. Driving home? Watching TV? Heading to bed? You guessed it – Flexion.

At bedtime, the vicious cycle of flexed spines, complete with its accompanying gamut of postural and physiological issues, continues.

Major Issues with the Seated Position and their Long Term Effects

The main muscles that tend to be tight from resting in a shortened position are the muscles of the neck such as the sternocleidomastoid and short cervical extensors, the muscles of the shoulder girdle such as the pec minor and anterior deltoids, the rectus abdominis and muscles of the hip girdle like the psoas group and the adductors group. Upper leg muscles including the biceps femoris, tensor fascia lata and illotibal band round out the list of muscles that promote a far from desirable posture for the body whether seated, standing, walking, running, jumping, crawling, dancing or lifting. Pretty much all of the muscles in and around the enitre upper back and all aspects of the glutes become so weak from all of this.

Summary / The Solution / What Next?

Do I expect the human race to stop using chairs, or put a halt to ergonomic technology? NO! And this is precisely why I strongly believe strength training is mandatory. Simply going for a run or doing some form of traditional cardio isn’t nearly enough. You won’t fix these issues; in fact, there’s a good chance could be making them worse. Learn how to deadlift safely and effectively so we can reverse this deadly trend of weak, misaligned spines. Remedy the issue in a controlled environment so that resisting gravity alone, or external loads such like groceries, babies or even the high demands of many sports people play and often take for granted becomes as easy as 1-2-3.

The Best Exercise, Period/ The Moneymaker Movement

The Deadlift in my eyes is a beautiful, big bang for your buck exercise that will help slowly reverse all the bad habits the dreaded chair has helped you attain. When done and progressed properly, deadlifts can give you a healthy backside and body (in terms of strength, force production, and force transfer). If you hate lifting weights, learn to love it. In my professional opinion, you still have to lift weights to maintain and sustain your health (I hate paying my mortgage or property taxes but I know if I don`t do it I might be homeless). Start by learning the deadlift, and learn it well. Progress with it using any progressive variable – load, time under tension, rest changes, or others. You should be able to continue to stay tall, upright and strong. You know, the way we humans were meant to be. Everyone NEEDS to strength train.

P.S. If you have a job where you are upright throughout the day for many hours, you’re not home free. I still think you should strength train, though it is not as imperative as the person sitting all day. We are meant to move, so MOVE!! Learn how to overcome more than just gravity!

Can I go for a run

Running. It’s not that simple.

During my time as a strength coach I have experienced a large number of varying questions and statements from clients regarding movement and improving one’s physique. When I see a client for the first time, I conduct an assessment of their movement and coordination to gather various information regarding their physical abilities and/or limitations. It is very common to see people with a much less than acceptable squat, deadlift or split squat in terms of force production, force transfer and all the necessary criteria that go along with those movements (i.e. their level of ankle, knee, hip, and spine mobility and stability- whether through dynamic or static postures).

Now all of those issues are very common. Another commonality is that I will tell this person that I do not want them to train on their own until I am happy with their level of competence, in terms of what cues that person HAS to focus on to change the movement pattern to something more beneficial. This person will agree with me and usually comply but then I get the same person asking me, “in the meantime, can I go for a run?”

This may seem like a harmless question because “who doesn’t know how to run?” Well, unfortunately tons and tons of people have lost the requisite strength to run whereby it will be beneficial to their bodies and goals. Yes, tons of people run but most of them have very poor technique. If you cannot squat, deadlift or do split squats (all of which are bi-lateral stance movements, with very little resistance to anti-rotation) what makes you think you can run (a uni-lateral, bounding, plyometric type movement with a need for trunk anti-rotational strength) with good technique and therefore allow you to get the benefit of running. From a neurological standpoint, running is a more complex movement than a squat or a deadlift or a split squat. The level of strength and coordination required is much higher and you need to be able to perform the movement soundly with your bodyweight (so I am not talking loaded squats etc. I am referring to the person resisting gravity whether it be through a squat, deadlift or running) Running a single leg hooping motion where at no point are both legs supporting the body, you are always bouncing off of one leg onto the other. Again, if this person cannot show stability as the force transfers through their feet, into their ankle, into their knee, into their hips, into their lumbar spine and so on with a movement that is relatively static when compared to running, they have no business running. The muscles they think they are using during running aren’t being used and thus the calories the person thinks they are burning, are not being burned. To the practitioner, this also only makes my job harder, as you are performing more reps with poor technique which in turn may make it take longer and be more challenging for me to help you break your poor movement patterns.

I know it may not be so common sense to some people like it is with many of my colleagues but just like the majority of the population used to think crazy things such as: “the world is flat” / “all dietary fat will make you fat” / “all terrorists are Muslim” / “our solar system is the only solar system” / “gay marriage will ruin society”. I am hoping in many years that people that have a better understanding of what their bodies need and for the importance of strength training, especially as it pertains to a persons’ level of effectiveness when it comes to cardiovascular or conditioning type exercises. Just because it’s “CARDIO” doesn’t mean there isn’t a prerequisite level of strength needed to make that exercise safe and effective.