The physical training of the youth of the United States is a very popular topic. There is no shortage of seminars, books, and blogs addressing the issue. There seems to be as many different opinions on how to train kids as there are people talking about it. I won’t go into too much detail about the shortcomings of the athletic development system in the United States, as both Chad and myself have spoken about the problems and dangers associated with the early specialization endured by kids in the United States. They play year-round sports -often times the same sport- with little to no regard for the demands that they are placing on their body. Parents seem to be willing to shell out $300-$400 per month to play in every possible lacrosse league, and yet they scoff at the idea of paying someone to teach their kid to move efficiently and effectively.
I was recently contacted by a local high school and asked to oversee their powerlifting program. The school, Trinity High School, is a private Catholic school with tons of great athletes. I thought that it was an exciting opportunity and decided that I would accept the offer. The cool thing about the powerlifting club is that it offers a chance for many kids who don’t make the other teams or don’t get much playing time to be able to participate in athletics at the school. The first thing that I noticed about the school was that the weight room hadn’t been updated since the 70s. It looked like it was built during the bodybuilding boom, and most of the equipment was pretty dated. This seemed pretty odd to me given that this school has a million-dollar football field (you may have seen it in a 28-29 loss on ESPN a couple weeks ago). When I asked why the weight room hadn’t been updated, I was told, “We don’t want the parents to think that all their tuition money is going to athletics.”
I suppose that statement sums up the problem with our system as a whole. Physical preparedness is an afterthought. Thankfully, we at Trinity are ahead of many high schools in the fact that we do have a full time strength coach. However, he’s just one man and he has hundreds of student-athletes as well as a strength and conditioning class to deal with. I’d be willing to bet that they have budgeted for more than one math teacher, though.
“No citizen has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training… what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old having never seen the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” – Socrates
I have been training in Trinity’s gym, trying to get acquainted with the school and the kids prior to the start of our team training sessions. The practice here –as it was at my high school- is for the sport coaches to coach their kids in the weight room. This blows my mind! I’ve had hours of meetings discussing liability, signing waivers, and everything else. Colin and I even had to sit through a two-hour class teaching us how to not molest kids! But somehow, it’s completely acceptable for an unqualified old man to put kids through a workout. I watched a basketball team fumble their way through a deadlift workout looking like a bunch of baby giraffes.
My issue isn’t just with the athletes, though. If you paid any attention to what my man Socrates said, no man has the right to be an amateur in physical training. How have we gotten to the point where we place no value on our bodies and yet are willing to spend thousands of dollars on someone to teach Latin or math? It’s utterly ridiculous. I would love to hear an argument for how math is more important than being able to squat properly. Every one of these kids has an iPhone and can probably download the best damn calculator on earth. There is no app for taking care of your body. When you consider the impact that your physical health can have on your mental health, I don’t see how anything else is more important.
Given the situation, I have decided to form Trinity Barbell Club. We will offer competitive powerlifting and Olympic lifting, along with general strength training for kids who don’t want to compete. There are basic movements that every human -from the star quarterback to the captain of the chess club- should master. No matter how much history and math you learn, you still need to be the master of your own body. Our goal is to teach kids a slow, continuous progression that is going to keep them strong and healthy throughout their lives. Once they have mastered the basics, they can feel free to pursue whatever sport they wish.
What are the basics that all of our kids should master?
1. Breathing: Breathing patterns have been linked to a myriad of social and anxiety disorders as well as many mobility problems. If we aren’t teaching every single child how to breathe and brace correctly, then we are sabotaging them.
2. Half-kneeling: This is where I think all of their training should start. The wide variety of movements that utilize this position help teach them to create stability using the glutes and hamstrings, brace through the lumbar, and create rotation in the thoracic.
3. Hip hinging: We’ve all seen the kids (or adults) who can’t seem to understand where their body is in space. It helps to use a PVC pipe for them to receive tactile feedback and work on getting into hip flexion without losing contact with the PVC. Much of this is cleaned up with improved breathing techniques, but the hip hinge is a key movement pattern that should also be drilled before we ever move on to deadlifting or any Olympic lift.
4. Turkish get-up: The Turkish get-up is probably my favorite movement for developing general strength and stability, and it’s a perfect movement to use after learning to breathe and create stability in the half-kneeling position. Drilling the Turkish get-up often –and as heavy as you can with perfect form- will always have a huge carry over into a beginner’s powerlifts, because being able to move more effectively and build general strength is what they need, more so than the specialized skill that is back squatting.