Kids Lifting Weights: “When Can I Go Heavier?”
Frequent questions I get asked by the kids I coach at LiftOff Academy are “when can I go heavier” or “why can’t I add weight to this lift?”.
To set the scene, we’ll be in class, working on a movement (perhaps a deadlift), and one of the children asks if they can go heavier. My answer won’t automatically be “no” but, in this case, it was. Is that because I was just being tough? In my opinion, no. Usually the child will then say “but I know I can lift more”. In this case, they were right; they had the strength to add weight. However, I had to question whether the child would be safe lifting a heavier weight. As their movement and technique wasn’t as close to perfect as it could be, my answer was then, and always would be, “no”.
My Coaching Principles
When I coach children, I have several principles that I follow. Firstly, I want the class to be enjoyable! It doesn’t matter how great the coaching is if they don’t want to come back. Secondly, I need the children to respect each other and me. I also need them to respect their surroundings. Thirdly and probably most importantly, I need them to be safe.
Being safe does not mean that I wrap them in cotton wool and stop them from doing anything which could cause injury. What it does mean is that I coach them to move in a certain way, so that they will be safe when they move faster, under more load, for longer etc.
At LiftOff Academy, children are first taught the correct mechanics of a movement. Taking the previously mentioned deadlift as an example, you could apply the same mechanics needed to the simple task of picking a pen up off the floor. However, if I was to ask anyone to pick up a heavy kettlebell, I would not want them to think as casually as if it were the same movement as picking up that pen.
The Importance of Mechanics
Mechanics are not learnt in a half hour session. They are learnt doing repetition after repetition of a movement correctly, over months. Even when children have got it nailed, we will need to go over the mechanics again to take account of a potential growth spurt, after which things can suddenly seems just that little bit different.
When the mechanics are solid, I then require consistency. It’s not enough to show me one good deadlift, I want multiple good deadlifts. I need to feel certain the movement patterns are ingrained, so that even when a child is tired or lacking a little concentration, they are there. They need to be second nature.
And then comes the Intensity
Then, and only then, do we add intensity. If we add intensity to an immature movement pattern, we will reinforce those poor patterns (which are much harder to undo later on). This can limit the child’s potential in terms of their true strength, power and speed. Of even greater concern is that poor mechanics can set them up for injury.
Great mechanics are not just about making a movement look pretty or lifting more than our peers. They are there to ensure that we are moving in the best way possible, that we are balanced. It also ensures that we are not overcompensating for a weakness or fault elsewhere.
So should children never lift heavy? Absolutely not! Some of the children I coach are capable of moving heavier loads than some of the adults I coach. But I will only allow them to do this once they have earned the right to do so; if they have sound mechanics and have worked hard to achieve consistency in the movement. Intensity is never the starting point.
If you think your child might be interested in joining the LiftOff Academy, please drop me a line at email@example.com for more information.
Coach Anne Lise
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