At Iron Performance Center, we pride ourselves on our staff’s ability to train and coach a wide variety of athletes and clients. It may surprise a few of you that many of our members are actually under the age of 18. Many parents trust us to prepare their young athlete for the demands of high school and national level sport performance, a task we do not take lightly. We train our young athletes to be unstoppable forces on the field, court, mat or water through optimized strength training and conditioning. Our young athletes become more dominant specimens and better kids through the disciplines of strength training.
That being said, we get our fair share of skeptics. Many parents have a ton of questions regarding strength training and rightfully so. They want to ensure that what they’re doing is right for their child AND if the investment is actually a sound one. From a coach’s standpoint, I totally respect every parent’s inquiry, even if it means fighting an uphill battle. With so much information out there regarding fitness, athletics and what it takes to “be a champion”, it’s not hard to see why so many folks form misconceptions. Watching kids run suicides till they puke or maneuver through ladders like lightning have parents wondering if their child needs to be doing flashy things to be better. Seeing fellow athletes do yoga or performing endless push ups instead of hitting the weights can certainly seem enticing as it appears “safer” and more cost-effective than strength training. Like I said, it’s an uphill battle sometimes.
It’s time someone clears the air. We have heard every question and concern and are finally going to address this as a whole. We’re going to break down our Top 5 Training Delusions so parents considering strength and conditioning for their kids can make a more informed decision in the future. Our shoes are tied and the gloves are off, let’s head up that hill.
1) Training vs. Working Out
Yes, there is a difference. When we say our athletes train, it means they follow a systematic approach designed to improve strength, power and speed while catering to their individualized limitations. Programs are planned, coached and optimized for specific points in time in which the athletes will need to be at their best to perform. Training means planned and progressive. “Working out” is not.
Some folks think their kids are just “working out” when doing actual strength training. In reality, they’re carrying out a regimented program designed for them to be better athletes. Despite what you may think, they aren’t benching mindlessly or curling for the beach. They also aren’t running suicides until they puke like some cliche drill sergeant would have them do (this has been proven COUNTLESS times to be detrimental to performance). They also aren’t showing up and doing some mindless “workout of the day” that was slapped on the board to elicit fatigue. Nope, when our athletes are training, they’re becoming indestructible. It’s important to understand the difference.
Last point I want to address is what we call a “gimmick”. A gimmick is something flashy or sexy that gets Instagram appeal. Anything from some crazy ladder/hurdle obstacle course to some extreme circuit where participants can barely breathe is, in my opinion, very much a gimmick. The truth of it all is that the tried and proven, simple stuff is what actually gets results. Everyone squats, everyone hinges, everyone presses/pulls and everyone lunges. But those things aren’t as sexy as running ladder drills or hopping backwards through a hurdle course. Don’t get me wrong, those types of tools and modalities can be a great addition to an athlete’s training plan. It should NOT, however, be a substitute. Strength is the foundation of all performance variables and you won’t be getting stronger from the latest BOSU ball drill to scroll across your feed. Flashy doesn’t mean effective folks. Be sure to keep that in mind when doing diligence.
2) Too Costly To Train
This isn’t so much a delusion as it is a point of perspective. We completely understand and respect that to have free income to dedicate to your child’s fitness is a luxury. Hiring a Strength Coach is a privilege that shouldn’t be taken lightly. When we hear that cost becomes an issue, we do our best to work out options that may yield the best results for the current budget. We try to reiterate how strength training is an investment in a young athlete’s development and the sweat equity gained can yield tremendous results for their future success. We’ve seen countless young men and women come through our doors raw and untrained with a ton of potential. When they leave, they’re more physical, disciplined individuals.
Now, I’m going to be quite blunt here. It really grinds my gears when we have athletes slacking off and coming to our staff saying they can’t afford to train anymore. With complete respect, we never chastise anyone in a financial situation. We never can fully understand the depths of what they may be going through. That being said, if we happen to see one of our athletes on social media 10 minutes later flashing his new iPhone, air pods or basketball arm sleeves, we may start to question how important training really was to that athlete. Phones, fresh kicks and the latest Oakleys are great and all, but I can’t recall the last time $200 sunglasses made a stronger lineman or more agile point guard. It really becomes a matter of priorities. If training to be a better athlete is important to you, invest in yourself. If looking “cottage fresh” takes precedent, well, we probably weren’t a good fit for you anyway.
3) My Athlete Needs More Flexibility
In most cases, not really. In fact, that may be more detrimental to performance than anything. First, if we feel an athlete needs to improve mobility, we do what we always do: lift. Yup, weight training to an athlete’s full range of motion will actually increase their flexibility. If an athlete is tight during a squat, we hammer their current range of motion and, over time, notice substantial improvements in their mobility. Weight training is essentially loaded stretching with a lot more benefits.
Second, too many parents (actually, most of the population) confuse tightness for weakness. When we assess our athletes, we’re able to take them through a variety of brief movement screens to assess their current abilities. When an athlete comes to us saying they’re tight, a large percentage of them are actually just weak. If they can passively be taken to full ranges of motion and CAN’T replicate it themselves, they aren’t tight. They’re just weak.
This common misconception leads to parents prioritizing yoga or stretching over weight training. Yoga can be a great supplement to training, but it should never be a substitute. Mobility without stability leads to injury for our athletes and we’ve seen too many horror stories that could have been avoided. In fact, it may surprise you to know that sometimes athletes NEED to be tight. For example, jumping athletes (volleyball, basketball) tend to have tight hamstrings compared to most. This can be their greatest asset. Tighter springs mean a greater recoil when relaxing and contracting which results in a more forceful jump or stride. Overstretching can loosen this spring and result in decreased performance. Next time you consider yoga over strength training, keep the above in mind. Strength is the foundation of all performance variables, so stop slapping band-aids on bullet holes because it “feels better” than stitches.
4) Taking “Breaks” From Training
Life happens, we understand that. Sometimes it’s impossible to make a training session. Plus, purposeful recovery is needed in order for the body to synthesize new, stronger tissue. That being said, there are always physiological consequences for not “feeding the animal” for extended periods of time. We’re all about optimizing training potential but to do so requires commitment. Performance adaptations require consistency and effort. This means our athletes must SHOW UP and WORK HARD. If not, the gains built over previous weeks begin to dissipate and previous hard work becomes irrelevant. It’s important to us that parents understand why we feel strongly about having athletes CONSISTENTLY train throughout the year.
It’s easiest to think of strength and conditioning as spinning plates on a stick. You spin plates of strength, power, endurance and mobility in order to improve performance. Every time you train, you re-spin a plate (or plates) to keep it going. If neglected for too long, the plates slow down and eventually fall off. If you spin only endurance and neglect strength, you lose strength. Spin power but neglect mobility, you lose range of motion. It’s a constant balancing act that requires attention throughout the year. Extended absences or consistent scattered training days will result in one heck of a Greek wedding.
Spinning the plates of performance is CRUCIAL for athletes in-season. Parents tend to think their athlete is over-worked, too busy or too sore to train throughout their child’s sport season. First off, athletes are always somewhat sore or tired anyway and still expected to compete. I’ve yet to meet one who doesn’t have some stiffness or tender spots throughout the year, but they still do just fine. That’s just the nature of athletics. Ask any young athlete if they’re tired or sore next time you see them. I’ll wait.
Although volume of work is an important variable to control to avoid overkill, we can’t completely neglect training at all. Let’s be realistic. Do you really think that training all summer will yield results for next spring’s playoffs if the athlete doesn’t train during the season? It kills us as coaches to watch athletes work so hard during the off-season to then go all in-season without lifting a single thing. All their plates have crashed to the floor.
It’s imperative that athletes incorporate some form of maintenance strength training program throughout the in-season in order to continue to have the physical capacity to perform. Something as simple as training only twice per week has demonstrated sustained gains for many of our athletes while allowing them sufficient recovery time from high volumes of practice. Heck, even a single lift per week can sustain some performance gains. What’s most important is the ability to be CONSISTENT with training. Countless missed or rescheduled training days leads to less than optimal results, something we do not settle for. Parents, strength training can be one of the most crucial supplements to your child’s sport season. As professionals, we adjust the training volumes to work around and with sport practices. You just need to find the right professional.
5) My Child Is Too Young To Lift
Can your child comprehend basic instructions? Then no, they’re not too young to start an appropriate strength program. We’ve already debunked the myth that lifting weights stunts growth (read our article Too Young Too Lift). Now, we hear parents concerned that their child should be doing ladder drills or core work until old enough to train. Problem is, every child has a different training age based on maturation rate. The easiest way to tell if your child is ready to train is to observe how they listen in sport practice. If they can comprehend instructions, they can be coached.
Now, perhaps you’re wondering what good a Strength Coach can do for a nine year old athlete. The answer is simple really. We teach children how to move better while strengthening fundamental patterns transferable to sport. Sport Coaches expect children to run, jump, hop, skip and sprint without really providing any instruction on how to do so properly. It’s just expected that kids will learn on their own. Trust me when I say that it’s important that children have lots of free play time to learn. It’s vital to improving movement but more importantly it creates an aura of fun. Fun results in wanting to be active more often, something overlooked when talking about sport. A Strength Coach can add to the athletes’ desire to want to move more often while teaching some new ways to do so. Find the right Strength Coach to put the fun back in FUNdamentals.
Parents, a proper strength and conditioning program can be instrumental in your young athlete’s success in sport. What’s more important are the skills and lessons learned that can be applied outside the weight room to their own lives. Discipline, active lifestyle, healthy eating, perseverance, positive attitude, respect, dedication and mental toughness are just some of the qualities we take pride in instilling in our young men and women. What’s most rewarding is seeing athletes face a challenge, whether it be a big lift or tough finisher, and overcome their fear of failure. Being successful isn’t the goal. Instead, it’s not fearing to take the chance to try. Strength and conditioning is more than just “working out”. It’s finishing what you set out to accomplish.
The view is pretty nice at the top of this hill…
Matrixx specializes in adolescent athletic development. He coaches some of the top athlete prospects coming out of high school in the Niagara region. He also works with dedicated members of the community who are passionate about improving personal fitness. Matrixx is the author of The Iron Guide to Building Muscle.