Youth Fitness Professionals
There is no real danger in kids performing machine based training under the proper supervision and appropriate guidelines. Many studies done the world over have concluded that strength based training programs done on this kind of fitness equipment is very safe for young children (again under appropriate guidelines). My issue is not whether or not kids CAN perform this kind of training, my question is WHY they need to.
Back tracking for a second, I have watched (as I’m sure we all have) a very young baby struggle to get to their feet. In terms of strength output, this equates to a near maximal load. No one seems to be concerned about it until that child becomes eight or so years old and wants to lift weights… Then people want to call the police on you because you had the ignorance to let a child perform strength training! The bottom line is that kids CAN handle strength training based loads… heck they do everyday – hopscotch, tag, bowling, ANY sport – all these things require varying degrees of strength.
Now the question of why. I just have never been convinced by any article, book or study championing child strength training that kids SHOULD use machine based fitness equipment. The reality is that sport AND life are based on the functionality of movement. Juan Carlos refers to it as the Four Pillars of human movement; Paul Check has a similar model which incorporates six stages.
My point being that whether you are dealing with a young athlete or just a young fitness participant, your goals as Youth Fitness Professionals should involve obtaining health and/or sporting proficiency on a useable level. Machines provide support (I have trained so many young athletes who simply cannot produce stability in all three planes), and the force application is both pre-set (which just begs for biomechanical dysfunction) as well as pre-guided (unfortunately sport and life are not).
My other concern with machines is that they inhibit two very important concerns when dealing with young athletes (actually when dealing with anyone):
1. It is very hard to train unilaterally when using machines (one side of the body at a time). Unilateral training, in my mind, is one of the most crucial components of developing young athletes.
Youth Fitness Professionals
2. You simply cannot train (either produce force through or learn to stabilize) the transverse plane. As referenced in many Kinesiology based books, over 85% of our core musculature is oriented horizontally or diagonally – we are designed for rotation, yet machines don’t allow for it.
My suggestion for working with young athletes (and this is based on several factors including age, emotional maturity, current physical proficiency) is as follows –
:: Don’t engage kids in exercises that promote external stability or useless force production. The key to working with young athletes in any sport is to promote mobility, stability and balance in conjunction with force. Young athletes need to have a virtual warehouse of athletic based skills in order to reach optimal levels. This is achieved by moving and stabilizing the body through various planes and producing force through various vectors. A common sequence as put forth by esteemed professionals such as Paul Check is as follows: flexibility before stability – stability before strength – strength before power.
:: Incorporate unilateral strengthening activities (one leg at a time, for example). Most force production in sport is unilaterally based. This strategy also assists in training balance and avoiding unilateral overuse injuries.
:: Add dynamic flexibility activities into workouts on a regular basis. Range of motion style flexibility is proven to be far more important to athletics than traditional static flexibility.
:: While bodybuilding type strength training is entirely useless to young athletes, a well educated professional should start teaching the movements and techniques associated with the Olympic and Power lifts at an early age (11 – 12 years old). These lifts include cleans, squats, push-press, snatch etc. Keep the exercises unweighted (i.e. use a broom handle rather than a weight bar) and concentrate on developing perfect and explosive power through technique.
Don’t underestimate the importance and value of basic "games" such as tag, tug of war and single leg tug of war.
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As always, great points and right on the mark. When I train youth athletes, and I have been fortunate to work with thousands over the last 5 years or so, it amazes me how tough simple tasks can be. Push-ups, squats and horizontal pull-up, even maintaining an athletic stance for 5 sec. are difficult for more than 50% of the these kids. When I ask how many times a week they have gym class, they will say more often than not, 1-2x/week. Clue number 1, right? The nice thing is some kids do have it 3-4 x/week. Interestingly I have found that, to no surprise of all IYCA trainers etc, that most of the athletes that I have worked with who have been involved in gymnatsics and some form of martial arts, (no machine training) far exceed strength levels and coordination than those that don’t.
Where I do my training, many of the parents come in and don’t see machines (or alot of that type of equipment) and wonder how is it possible to “train” their child. I then go into my explanation, hand them an article, somewhat like the one you wrote, and eventually they come around. Pecerption for them is reality as is most, and we, as youth fitness professionals need to continue to educate the whole family, not just the kids.
Anyway, I enjoy you thoughtful blogs and continued success to IYCA and all its partners and trainers!!
safe body building…
Your topic Five a Day | FitnessFacts.org was interesting when I found it on Thursday searching for safe body building…