My eleven-year-old son came home from school yesterday and started to tell me about his day. He went through his usual classes, and then in a passing tone said, "… and we lifted weights in gym."
Talk about stopping me in my tracks. As I inquired more about gym class, I learned he really WAS lifting weights. They were doing bench presses, and dumb-bell curls, as well as the good old peg-climb (hand over hand putting the pegs in the notches to climb the wall). To give a bit more background, there was one teacher for 40 students while this was going on.
It didn’t take me long to compose and send a letter to the school about the seriousness of this practice. I firmly believe that kids should NOT be lifting weights in such an unsupervised manner. Heck, I believe kids shouldn’t even CONSIDER lifting weights until they reach puberty. Up till then, using their own body weight to do things like pushups and situps is usually sufficient to build strength. I tried to convey this as politely as I could in my letter, but when I get a return message, I sincerely doubt my fears will be put at ease if I hear how the teacher watches everything.
In all my years of coaching and teaching, I have yet to find an individual who can monitor 40 pre-adolescent kids who have been set loose on the weight bench. My son also told me that the instruction that was given was to the "spotters," who were advised how to get the weight OFF the lifter if the child couldn’t finish the move. Of course, I quickly put this into a training routine, and the message would be, "OK, lift to failure, then your spotters will help you finish the last one." Probably not the best way to introduce someone to weight training.
I know there have been recent studies showing that weight training among youngsters is actually beneficial; however, I really feel this goes so far beyond that.
If you’re going to allow a young child to perform ANY weight-bearing exercises, the integrity of the movement MUST take precedence over the amount of weight being lifted. I believe the introduction to weight training should be more along the lines of a personal-trainer session. A good trainer can show the fine points of the move, and can explain WHICH exercise is meant to work WHICH muscle. I believe that the more knowledge and education an athlete receives about his body and his exercise program, the more he or she will benefit from it.
When I coached high-school swimming, I was aware of how high-school-aged males approach the weight room. How did I know this? Uh… I was a high-school-aged boy at one point in my life. It’s the "wad cha bench?" attitude. It was all about how much, not how. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for our sport. We started our lifting season with two weeks of HOW (form work) rather than two weeks of HOW MUCH. The swimmers were not allowed to put ANY weight on the machines until they proved to me they understood how to control the movement, and only then were they allowed to start adding weight. Each day, they would add to the stack until they could not perform the move properly anymore, then they would move back down in weight a bit, and start the process over again.
What upsets me most, as a parent, is that I was not informed that my son would be lifting. His body is still in a developmental stage, and my concern is that an injury NOW could affect his-long term potential in whatever sport he decides to pursue.
If you find that your child is being asked to lift, find out how much supervision there is. Trust me — a student/teacher ratio of 40-1 isn’t going to cut it. This needs to be very closely monitored, and the weight should be extremely light. The important instruction should be about a slow, steady movement, isolating a particular muscle, and if the athlete feels any pain in any surrounding joints, the move should be STOPPED. This is NOT the time to pull out Rocky and get all macho and go for the burn. Yet that’s what I envision is happening with my son.
Although I’m overall very happy with the education my kids are getting, maybe I’m too close to this situation. I guess if I was gooder at English, I’d take issue with what my daughter and son are being teached in that class, but my expertise is in athletics, and I know the potential danger in allowing 11-year olds to lift weights in an under-supervised situation. Just be aware of what your kids are doing in school… talk and learn. Now excuse me while I climb off my soap box.