Tuesday, January 5, 2010

thoughts on strength - part 2

My last post (thoughts on strength - part 1) received a lot of good reviews, so here is part 2.

Before I go into detail on my opinion of strength training for youth, there are a few more highlights to share that will help strengthen my point (pardon the pun). As I mentioned, I started lifting weights when I was 13 or 14, I can't remember exactly. It never stunted my growth, I never broke a growth plate, I never was injured playing sports and I never committed random acts of violence because of my new-found passion. Had to get that out of the way to squash some myths :)
As I entered high school athletics, I realized that, while I was strong and fast, I was smaller than just about everybody else on the field, diamond, court and mat. So, just to compete, I had to attack the weight room with even more fervor and intensity. I remember the first time I could bench press 100 pounds...what a feeling! But, that only made me want to do more. Fast forward to my senior year: I was now a powerlifter in the 125 pound weight class with personal best's of 235 in the bench, 315 in the deadlift and 300 in the squat. Keep in mind I was 125 pounds soaking wet.
I was gaining strength weekly, it seemed. I gradually weaned myself from my love of playing sports to only concentrating on my lifting. In my senior year, I was hospitalized for a month for various ailments, but still managed to lift. I would lie under my bed and do push ups with the bed frame, put two chairs side by side and do dips. I would load up my book bag and squat and deadlift with it. Yes, I was a little nuts. When you find your desire, no one can take that away from you. As I entered college, my powerlifting transferred into bodybuilding. My body finally hit puberty around 18 and I was adding muscle by the week. I entered my first of 17 bodybuilding shows and the rest is history...

When I look back at the tools that were forged via lifting weights, the one constant that never stopped growing was my self-confidence. I was a classic under-achieving student and a pretty good athlete, but was also aware that I never quite fit in with everyone else. High school can break a young kid if he/she let's it. The ironic thing is that while I was using weights for my own selfish gains, I also became more popular. It was purely unintentional, but it happened. Strength and muscle have always had a cartoonish or cult like-quality to those that admire the athletes that partake in it. Weights then had a two-fold purpose: the obvious one of strength gains but also gaining acceptance among my peers. It felt phony but I didn't care.

The reason I bring this up is to show the wide ranging effects that strength training can have on a growing boy or girl. In short, strength training can:

* Improve self-esteem, self-confidence and body image perceptions;
* Decrease injuries by making connective tissue, joint structures and muscles more resilient to potential trauma;
* Improve ALL indices of sport and athletic skill development. This is the biggie. If you want to:
Jump higher....run faster....stop quicker....tackle harder....kick further....swing faster, etc. then strength is the one component that will help every other component of athleticism.

Every sport relies on one major aspect: the production and application of FORCE. From hitting to kicking to swimming to throwing to jumping to running and everything in between, the constant is the application of force to an object, whether it be a ball, a person, water, or the ground. In order for force to improve, strength must improve.
If you think your son or daughter is too young to strength train, think again. They will be exposed to more dangerous conditions while playing sports then through lifting weights. Gymnastics? Strength training! Football? Strength training! Baseball, soccer, jungle gyms, swing sets, recess, phys. ed., running, cutting....all involve the application of force, thus are forms of strength training! The negative perception of strength training stems from junk science from several years ago outlining the dangers of strength training for young kids. This has since been updated to reflect new research. All forms of activity come with risks, but lifting weights, under supervision, has one of the safest track records relative to sports such as soccer, football and gymnastics, among others.
Notice that I am not using weight training in the same context as strength training. They are not necessarily synonymous. The strength training that I advocate for youth consists of medicine balls, bands, ropes, tires, sleds and, of course, bodyweight. There is room for light dumbell and kettlebell work as well. To be blunt, kids are weak (it hurts me to watch kids struggle with their own bodyweight as resistance). I have several theories why that is, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how they got that way; the question then becomes, "What are we going to do about it!?"

I hope that you enjoyed this and maybe even learned something. Strength is an unbelievably powerful tool that can transcend the weight room, playground or athletic world. Get strong. Stay strong.

No comments: