T Nation

Weight Training for Youth


#1

Reading the "Conditioning is a Sham" article" emphasizes the need for strength above all else. For a beginner, 12 years old what can he do? I have a son who wants to start but my wife is hesitant. Any guidelines or suggestions are greatly appreciated.


5x5 for Beginners
#2

If you could go back in time and give your twelve year old self a training regimen, what would you do?
Perhaps this perspective might help.


#3

Hey, check out the search engine–this topic has come up as a thread several times. Not trying to be a dick, i’m just on my phone and can’t type out a novel right now, but there were several threads, at least one of which I outlined most of the research on what a 12 yr old can do/should focus on. They were a couple years old tho so its not like they’ve just been covered.

Basically in the 10 second version of research, a 12 year old should focus on mastering as many new movements as possible (think in exactly the same terms as “vocabulary” is to “language learning”). He’s at a prime age for coordination, balance, gymnastic stuff (doesnt need to be hardcore, just like rolls, somersaults, planks etc). He needs to master bodyweight stuff to help hia body awareness. Variety of movement is way more important than poundage lifted. It feeds on itself–the more different movements he masters the quicker he picks up subsequent movements. This is also why technical perfection is adviseable at this age–habits are easily formed at this age, and if he starys out on the wrong foot it can do a loooot of damage for the future (not so much in physical damage, more like bad fundamentals lead to bad sports performances. Habits and all).

In general any weoght he can do 12 or more times is perfectly acceptable and safe. Forces around the joints in sports easily exceed 8x the forces on the joint encountered in weightlifting, and sports are good for kids, so there’s.no need to fear for “growth plates” or anything provided proper technique is adhered to.

Think of this in terms of learning the “language” of athletics.and body awareness. Just as with regular language, the entire thing is built on how many different words you can understand–your vocab. Individual exercises are “words”. Technique is “grammar”. The more various words you understand and can use proper grammar for, the more complete your ability to adapt to new unknown words when you encounter them, the greater your natural adaptation ability and the faster you learn new skills. Get as many vocab words as possibld–no need to even be weight exercises, they can be gymnastic moves, martial arts moves, push-ups and calisthenics, or sport techniques (playing lots of different sports)


#4

Push-ups, bodyweight squats, planks, inverted rows, pull-ups etc would all be a really good start…trx/blast straps/suspended webbing straps etc could be useful + maybe some bands.

If he can already do all or most of those for 20+ reps, maybe give him a pair of adjustable dbs to do some goblet squats, suitcase deads, floor presses, ohps, curls etc…give him just enough weight so that it’s semi-challenging for now ie, he can do 2-3 sets of 15+ on a movement, then, give him a few more 2.5KG or 5kg plates to play with each birthday/christmas.

That’s pretty much how I’d approach it.


#5

Good responses so far. I just wanted to add that your wife should let him lift and start building some muscle memory and good habits and a little strength even. He’s not going to really get that strong until he goes through puberty obviously, but I tell you what, I wish I had started lifting years sooner than I did. If I had a time machine I’d be all over that!


#6

[quote]Navin Johnson wrote:
…12 years old what can he do?
Any guidelines or suggestions are greatly appreciated.[/quote]
I think the most important thing is food.

If the boy shows an interest in lifting weights that’s great. Get him a program that concentrates mainly on the main lifts such as clean, snatch, squat, dead, shoulder press, bench. If you don’t know how to teach some of these lifts get him a coach. Learning form now will save him a tremendous amount of toil down the road. Most people think of heavy weights when they think of squats, deads, and bench but I would be militant about his technique and low weights.


#7

In some “circles” you’re never to young to start the Olympic lifts!


#8

[quote]Navin Johnson wrote:
Reading the “Conditioning is a Sham” article" emphasizes the need for strength above all else. For a beginner, 12 years old what can he do? I have a son who wants to start but my wife is hesitant. Any guidelines or suggestions are greatly appreciated.[/quote]
Basically, as was said, you want to develop a diverse base of skills and lay a foundation of coordination and strength. It’s not the best idea, long term, to throw the kid right under a barbell and have him do a small handful of exercises.

My go-to bodyweight-only plan for kids/teens:

Mon., Wed., and Fri.
Squat 2x15 (No weight, keep both feet flat on the floor.)
Push-up 2x15 (On your toes, go until the chest almost touches the floor.)
Lunge 2x15 (Alternate legs, 1 rep left/1 rep right.)
Neutral-grip pull-up 2x15 (assisted if necessary. Could be substituted with inverted rows.)
Plank 2x15-count (Hold the top part of a push-up, on the toes, arms straight, keep the whole body straight. Count to 15.)
Burpee/squat thrust 2x15

Also, what ever happened to the training you were having your 7/8 year old football team doing? Double-check the info in the videos I posted in that thread.


#9

^^^ is 12 really too young to introduce them to some barbell work in addition to what you have listed?


#10

[quote]jjackkrash wrote:
^^^ is 12 really too young to introduce them to some barbell work in addition to what you have listed? [/quote]
Yes and no. It’s really about the capabilities of the kid. I generally recommend that plan until it’s easy from start to finish. So, if the kiddo runs through it Monday and Wednesday, has good form on everything, gets all the reps without hitting muscular failure, then sure, on Friday introduce them to free weights.

But there’s little reason to put a new lifter, whether they’re 12 or 32, under a barbell to bench press if they have trouble doing three full-range push-ups or having them squat a 45-pound bar when they can’t do a handful of unweighted squats or lunges with full ROM.

Also, especially in younger/still-developing athletes, there are physical benefits to building the support structures (tendons, ligaments, etc.) and inter-muscular coordination with moderate to high-rep bodyweight training before advancing to free weights.


#11

[quote]Chris Colucci wrote:
But there’s little reason to put a new lifter, whether they’re 12 or 32, under a barbell to bench press if they have trouble doing three full-range push-ups or having them squat a 45-pound bar when they can’t do a handful of unweighted squats or lunges with full ROM.

Also, especially in younger/still-developing athletes, there are physical benefits to building the support structures (tendons, ligaments, etc.) and inter-muscular coordination with moderate to high-rep bodyweight training before advancing to free weights.[/quote]
Although ^this^ is true, what kind of 12 year old can’t do at least a dozen pushups and squats with full ROM? I have a nephew that figured out how to do handstand pushups over the 4th of July holiday when I bet him he couldn’t. I am pretty sure the kid is a 4th grader…

They also make training bars that weigh about 15 pounds but are the same size as Olympic bars. Plus bumper plates that weigh as little as 2.5 pounds/plate.


#12

I withdraw that last statement


#13

[quote]JLone wrote:
They also make training bars that weigh about 15 pounds but are the same size as Olympic bars. Plus bumper plates that weigh as little as 2.5 pounds/plate.[/quote]
Agreed. I hesitate to quote Rippetoe here, since on another thread I’m apparently a devout Rip-worshipper and hardcore cheerleader of his, but he does have a solid quote on the issue of weight training for kids:

“I have a bar in my gym that weighs 11 pounds. I can make that bar weigh 12 pounds next time. And then I can make it weigh 13 pounds, and 80 pounds, and finally 245 pounds. I can make my barbell directly scalable to the ability of an eight year old kid.”

I do agree that’s probably the way to go once they “graduate” to barbells, however, why use an 11 or 15 pound bar when zero external resistance is sufficiently challenging? In a sense, that’d be like starting everyone off flat benching 95 pounds, when 45 or 65 might be a more appropriate load.

[quote]
… what kind of 12 year old can’t do at least a dozen pushups and squats with full ROM? I have a nephew that figured out how to do handstand pushups over the 4th of July holiday when I bet him he couldn’t. I am pretty sure the kid is a 4th grader…

… I withdraw that last statement[/quote]
Ha, true enough. But really, from what I’ve seen teaching elementary school Phys Ed (grades 1-6/ages 6ish to 11ish) for a few years, teaching kids karate (ages 3 and up), and training teens in the gym, it’s not so much an obesity issue as it is an inactivity issue.

That is, the majority of kids I taught weren’t fat, they were just lazy or simply out of shape. That’s, um, better, right? :wink: I’ve had kids who couldn’t get the coordination for jumping jacks correct, and I’m going to trust them to control a barbell going overhead without losing a tooth?

I have no problem progressing a younger lifter to a smart free weight program, but I’m going to start off with a more regressed movement until I’m confident in their ability to handle the additional stress.


#14

^^^ Sounds like solid reasoning to me.


#15

[quote]Chris Colucci wrote:

[quote]jjackkrash wrote:
^^^ is 12 really too young to introduce them to some barbell work in addition to what you have listed? [/quote]
Yes and no. It’s really about the capabilities of the kid. I generally recommend that plan until it’s easy from start to finish. So, if the kiddo runs through it Monday and Wednesday, has good form on everything, gets all the reps without hitting muscular failure, then sure, on Friday introduce them to free weights.

But there’s little reason to put a new lifter, whether they’re 12 or 32, under a barbell to bench press if they have trouble doing three full-range push-ups or having them squat a 45-pound bar when they can’t do a handful of unweighted squats or lunges with full ROM.

Also, especially in younger/still-developing athletes, there are physical benefits to building the support structures (tendons, ligaments, etc.) and inter-muscular coordination with moderate to high-rep bodyweight training before advancing to free weights.[/quote]

Thoroughly agree with this. You have to master your bodyweight first. But also no it’s not too young in the sense that–provided they can do the exercises properly–there’s a lot of merit in the basic weight exercises. But variety is key–limiting the number motions he learns is just downright bad. I like dumbbells more for youth too…best start learning how to stabilize weights when young. But only AFTER he can properly do bodyweight exercises and such.

I was just bored and on my phone when I started typing my novel, trying to pass time. I forgot to say this above, and that’s important–bodyweight first.

The ongoing development of the tendons and ligaments is the big reason I voiced “anything he can do for more than 12 reps” in my original long reply. high rep might not be “best” for adults in terms of strength or mass, but we’re not thinking just about those things when kids are concerned. Overriding concern is coordination, health, balance, stabilization, and learning lots of new things. The hormonal changes they go through are enough to really help them along with the other stuff.