If you have ever wondered why bench pressing hurts your shoulders, then look no further. We have put together the perfect fix!
Ah, the bench press.
What can only be described as one the of the most popular exercises on the planet.
Because, you know, who doesn’t want a ‘strong’ (read: large and muscular) chest?
Hell, I am pretty sure between the ages of 16 and 18, the bench press was the only exercise I did on a regular basis. Every Monday and Wednesday night after school, you would have found me out in the shed, listening to some Blink 182 (the angsty teenager that I was), and repping out some bench press.
Well, until they weren’t…
See, after a good chunk of time, my shoulders started getting a little bit niggly.
Nothing terrible mind you — the pain would go away after a couple of sets — it was just a bit annoying.
So I persisted with my training, and I ignored it completely.
And who would have thunk it, but over time it got worse.
The pain went from being a minor niggle, to a persistent ache. Then, after a couple more weeks, it progressed into a sharp stabbing pain in the front of both my shoulders. To make matters worse, it no longer only hurt when I bench pressed, but during any other exercises did as well.
This meant no chin ups, no push ups, and devastatingly, no bicep curls.
I was literally forced to take a break from weights training (well, had I actually done any lower body training I would have been fine — but i didn’t…).
Fortunately, after a couple of weeks the pain went away. But every time I tried to bench press, it flared up immediately.
So, in the end, I stopped completely.
Up until a couple of years ago that is, when I reintroduced it back into my training.
But this time, I did it in a much smarter way. I also made some other changes to my weight training routine to make sure that the pain that I experienced stayed away for good.
And now you can do the same.
So, without further ado — why bench pressing hurts your shoulders, and what you can do to fix it!
Your Technique Sucks
When it comes to pain during a specific exercise, your first point of call should almost always be technique. To put it simply, most exercises have been performed pretty successfully for hundreds of years. As a result, if you are experiencing pain during an exercise, it is much more likely that the way in which you are performing it is the issue, rather than the exercise itself.
In my mind, this is one of the core reasons as to why bench pressing hurts your shoulders.
Now, just to be clear — I am not saying that some people cannot have certain restrictions that will make a certain exercise challenging for them — because they can.
But the fact is, these restrictions often impair the ability to perform and exercise with good technique. It is this which then leads to pain and discomfort. Ill give you an example of this further down.
So, the bench press.
What does good technique look like?
Well, there are a few things you want to make sure of:
- Head, upper back, and bum are all making contact with the bench.
- Feet are behind your knees, with your heels being firmly driven towards the ground.
- Your lower back and thoracic spine are in a state of extension (yes, an arch is fine).
- You have your shoulders blades pulled together and driven down towards your back pockets.
While this may look slightly different on an individual basis, it should all result in something a little like this:
Image source: Tony Bonvechio at http://bonvecstrength.com
But what about neutral spine!
Now, before you blow a gasket and start screaming about ‘neutral spine’ — hear me out for a second.
First and foremost, having extension throughout your thoracic and lumber spine allows you to keep your shoulders back and down. This is a position that ensures your shoulder blades sit firmly on the bench in a retracted position (meaning that they are pulled together). This is extremely important, because it keeps your shoulders in a nice neutral position (rather than rolling forward), which enhances safety.
Moreover, this stability increases your ability to produce force at the shoulder joint, giving you a nice stable platform to work from. If you cannot maintain this position, then you lose shoulder stability, which results in less power and impaired safety.
Secondly, for the most part, lumber extension really only becomes problematic when it is placed under excessive shear force. So although this position does indeed require a large amount of lumbar extension, the amount of shear force that it is under is extremely low — meaning that it really poses no issue.
And I would also argue that the load on the spine during a bench press is markedly less than the load placed through the shoulder joint — therefore ensuring a safe and stable shoulder position takes priority.
You Need More Mobility
I mentioned above that some people will indeed have restrictions that impair their ability to perform a bench press with good technique. I should also note that this is becoming increasingly common, because these restrictions are predominantly driven by sitting.
Yep, all that time stuck at your computer is doing a whole lot more than just hurting your eyes — it is also hurting your posture.
See, when you spend a lot of time stuck in a single position, your body starts to perceive this position as ‘normal’. This means that certain muscles will tighten to ensure that this position is maintained indefinitely. While this is ideal for working at a computer, it is less so for performing most exercises. And when we consider the rounded shoulder position it reinforces, you can see why it is particularly bad for the bench press.
Those muscles that typically become tight in response to sitting include:
- Pectoralis major and minor
- Latissimus dorsi
Within this, your thoracic spine can also become stuck in a rounded position, where it loses its ability to move freely.
This means that stretching these tight muscles and increasing the range of motion you have available at your upper spine is paramount to ensuring good bench press technique.
My favourite exercises that achieve this are:
If you can perform these as part of your warm up (or even better, every single day), then it will make a world of difference!
You Lack Upper Back Strength
What do you mean I have a weak upper back? Isn’t the bench press a chest exercise?
Well, in short, yes — but it is also a whole lot more than that.
Remember above when I said good bench press technique requires you to keep your shoulder blades back and down? You know, because this keeps your shoulders in a safe, neutral, and strong position?
Yep, well that is only managed if the muscles of your upper back are strong enough to maintain that position. And if they are not? Well you can expect to have a hard time keeping your upper back tight.
Your shoulders will suffer as a result.
So, the remedy to this is the sprinkling of some upper back exercises into your warm up, and throughout your other training sessions. These exercises directly train the muscles of the upper back, reinforce good posture, and help you keep a solid shoulder position during the bench press.
The best upper back exercises (in my personal opinion) are:
As simple as each of these exercises are, they can make a world of difference. Try and train them 2-3 times per week, and reap the rewards!
Take Home Message
Despite what many would have you believe, the bench press is a actually pretty complex exercise. So if you have ever wondered why bench pressing hurts your shoulders, it could come down to a number of different reasons.
However, by improving your technique, increasing your mobility, and enchaining your upper back strength, you can cause huge improvements in your bench press. This will not only make you stronger, but keep your shoulders nice and healthy in the process!
About the Author
Is weight training good for your bones? Yes, it certainly is — if you implement it optimally of course. So find out how you can!
Over the last couple of weeks I have written a couple of articles describing how and why weight training is good for your joints (check them out here and here).
So I thought I might as well keep that ball rolling and answer a question that comes up more often than you might think: “is weight training good for your bones?”
What You Need to Know About Bone Health
Keeping your bones healthy and strong is pretty damn important.
I mean, if they become weak and brittle, then you are going to be at a much higher risk of incurring bone fractures and breaks.
Now this obviously not a good thing.
In fact, it can be an absolutely terrible thing.
I mean, while a fractured bone will be an uncomfortable experience for most, it can be a literal death sentence for some individuals (particularly those entering their golden years).
So, to put it simply, strong bones = healthy life.
Bone Health and Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a disease is typified by a significant reduction in bone density.
This occurs when your rate of bone production is outweighed by your rate of bone degradation (which i should mention is a normal process). In this scenario, your bones will become weak and brittle, in which you become much more susceptible to breaks and fractures.
But here is the really scary thing: osteoporosis affects more than 700,000 Australians over 50 nationwide.
And no, that is not a typo.
More than 700,000.
For those of you playing at home, that’s a helluva lot of people.
Now, the good news is that osteoporosis (and the decline in bone density that precedes it) is not a death sentence.
In fact, there is a growing body of research clearly demonstrating that exercise can have a seriously positive impact on the health of your bones.
And of those types of exercise that appear to have the most benefit?
Well, encase the title of the article didn’t give it way, weight training appears to be king.
Is Weight Training Good for Your Bones?
Amazingly, progressive weight training has been shown to cause steady increases in bone mineral density. Importantly, this occurs in:
- Healthy individuals,
- People with diagnosed osteoporosis
- Those at a high risk of developing osteoporosis
So, by simply weight training a few times per week, you can see some huge increases in your bone health.
This is not only going to significantly reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis in the long run, but will also limit your likelihood of experiencing bone breaks and fractures.
Optimising Weight Training to Improve Bone Health
You now know that weight training is the key to increasing the health of your bones. But there a few things that need to be considered here:
- Heavy loads appear better at stimulating bone growth than lighter loads
- Free weights that place load on the lower limbs and the spine appear most effective
- You need to progressively increase loads as you get stronger, to continually force adaptation
- Three sessions per week appears optimal
If you manage to adhere to these general rules, you can be guaranteed that you will see some good improvements in bone density.
Take Home Message
So, is weight training good for you bones? Yessir, it certainly is.
If you implement it optimally, of course.
With this in mind, weight training is something that should be performed by all individuals — especially those looking to improve bone health and stave off osteoporosis.
About the Author
Is squatting bad for your knees? Research would respond with a big fat NO — In fact, squatting may even be very good for your knees…
There are a few common suggestions that seem to come up in the health industry repeatedly.
You know the ones I am talking about, right?
- “If you want to lose weight, you have to eat (exactly) 1200 calories per day”
- “To build a six pack, you need to do heaps of ab work”
And lets not forget:
- “You can literally eat anything you want after working out, coz the anabolic window brah”
Now, fortunately for us, most people have cottoned on to the fact that these ‘fitness tips’ are nothing more than misguided information — simple comments that don’t take individual context into account.
However, for some reason there is one fitness myth that simply refuses to die.
If you read the title of this article, then you can probably see exactly where I am going with this.
“Squatting is bad for your knees”
But is it really…
Is Squatting Bad For Your Knees?
Too answer this too common question, I took a dive into the research to determine what actually happens to your knee while you squat.
And believe it or not, not all that much really happens at all.
A common suggestion is that as you descend into a squat, your anterior cruciate ligament (yep, that dreaded ACL) is placed under tension, making it susceptible to damage. However, research has shown that the opposite is actually true.
See, the force placed on this ligament decreases the more your knee is bent — which is exactly what happens when you squat.
Now this isn’t to say that there is no load placed through the knee as you squat.
In fact, as you squat, you can expect to see an increase in shear stress through many of the passive structures of the knee (including your meniscus, cartilage, and patella tendon). But the interesting thing here is that this force peaks as you reach 90 degrees of knee flexion — after which it appears to remain around the same, or even decrease.
To provide a bit of context, 90 degrees of knee flexion refers to the point when your thighs become parallel to the ground. Which is about the same amount your knee bends you get when you walk up some stairs…
So with this in mind, you can assume that the squatting movement itself is not bad for your knees.
But What About Squatting Under Load?
This is where things get a little bit interesting (or at least I think they do…).
Obviously, during a gym session, it is pretty rare that you will perform a squat with simply your body weight — or at least, not for long, anyway.
Over time you will progress to squatting under load. Then, in more time, you will increase that load to accommodate increases in strength and function.
It is this process that ultimately describes training in its entirety.
Now, the thing that needs to be acknowledged here is that as load increases, the force distributed through the knee joint also increases.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, I would argue that it is a very good thing.
Is Squatting Good For Your Knees?
See, very much like the muscles in your legs, the passive structures within your knee (cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and meniscus) all have the capacity to adapt and become stronger.
And again, like your muscles, this comes down to gradually exposing them to increasing loads over time.
In short, as you get stronger, they get stronger.
As a result, this actually makes the squat one of the best exercises on the planet for improving knee joint health and preventing against knee joint injuries.
However, there are a few caveats around this — namely the fact that your exercise technique needs to be sound, and the increases in load occur in a gradual and safe manner.
How to Squat Properly: My Tips for Good Squat Technique
Like I mentioned above, the key to getting all the benefits of squatting come from performing the movement with good technique.
But what in the world does this look like?
Well, pretty simply – like this:
You want to make sure that you have a nice neutral spine. That your chest is kept up nice and tall. Importantly, you also want to make sure that your entire foot (toes, heel, and the ball) is making contact with the ground. You will also notice that in this example, they are squatting below parallel. Their knees also happen to be coming beyond their toes.
Both of which are absolutely FINE.
Firstly, squatting below parallel is a great option IF you have the mobility to do so. It is this movement that takes your knee through a full range of motion, which is what helps improve knee health.
Now, if you do not have the mobility available, then there is some merit in doing some dedicated mobility work. This should be done with the intent to achieve a full range of motion squat safely.
However, this is another article unto itself…
Secondly, if your knees did not have the ability to travel over your toes, you would not be able to walk. Seriously, you will be in this position every day, so why not train to become stronger in this position?
Makes sense, right.
How to Squat with Good Technique
So, without further ado, my step by step approach to squatting with good technique.
- Set yourself up with your feet a bit wider than shoulder width, with your toes pointed out slightly. Your entire foot should be making contact with the ground, and your big toes should be pressed firmly into the floor.
- Keeping your chest up tall, proceed to sit straight down so that your bum drops between your heels (this should be done slowly, and under control).
- Hold a slight pause at the bottom without losing your chest position. Your torso should be upright, your spine straight, and your hips flexed to about 45 degrees (give or take).
- From here, push your feet into the ground until you are back at your starting position.
- Proceed to pump your fist in the air in celebration — you just completed one very nice repetition, you legend!
Simple stuff really.
Progressing the Squat
So, I think we have answered the question, “is squatting bad for your knees?”
Within this, we have also looked at how to perform a really good looking squat.
However, what I haven’t touched on is how you can add load to the squat. Remember above, when I mentioned that the addition of load is what causes increases in tissue strength? And that it is these increases in tissue strength that have a long lasting impact on knee health?
With that in mind, you should be able to see that this step of adding load is crucial to improving strength, joint health, and function.
Which is exactly why I wanted to outline the exact way that I progress the squat to allow the gradual addition of load:
- Plate squat (Weeks 1-4).
- Goblet squat (Weeks 5-8).
- Dual KB front squat (Weeks 9-12).
- Front Squat (Weeks 13-16).
- Back Squat (Weeks 17-20).
Now, while I appreciate that this may look like a lengthy process, you really want to make sure that it is done as safely and as efficiently as possible.
Which I believe I have ensured quite well.
See, after each 4 week period, you should have mastered that specific variation. Each week you should also increase the weights you use slightly to continually increase strength throughout the entire duration of the progression.
As a result, this progression offers the perfect way to allow long term progress!
Take Home Message
So, is squatting bad for your knees?
Hell to the no.
Well, as long as you perform them smartly that is — which, using the tips outlined in this article, you are guaranteed to do.
So what are you waiting for?
About the Author
Load management principles are used daily in high-end strength and conditioning/sports settings and are critically important in measuring relative injury risk and determining optimal load.
However, the concept of load management may not be limited to high-performance sports or training settings. There are principals of this concept that are applicable in non-sporting settings (eg. day to day activities, work, and leisure). Exploring the wider contexts to which load management principals can be used may assist in reducing overuse/chronic injury risk for the general population.
Let’s Talk Science
A concept developed based on the idea of an ideal training stimulus having the capability to maximise performance through the use of appropriate training loads while limiting negative training consequences (injury and fatigue). The ACWR describes two workload zones, the ‘sweet spot’ and the ‘danger zone’ which represent the likelihood of subsequent injury.
The ‘sweet spot’ is represented in the graph below as a ratio range between 0.8 and 1.3. The ‘danger zone’ is represented as a ratio greater than 1.5.
Calculating ACWR & Load: Acute vs Chronic
In a training setting, this is typically calculated over a 7-day block (average of daily acute workloads). Measures of the sessional rating of perceived exertion (sRPE) times by the duration of the training session would represent the acute load for a day. Example: If sRPE (perceived difficulty) of a 100-minute session is 5 this would equal 500 arbitrary units (AU) (5*100 = 500 AU).
The chronic load can be calculated as an average of the acute workloads.
Week 1: 500 AU
Week 2: 700 AU
Week 3: 600 AU
Week 4: 300 AU
Chronic Load: (500 + 700 + 600 + 300)/4) = 525 AU
ACWR: Acute Load (Week 5: 700AU)/Chronic Load – (700 / 525) = 1.3
To give some commentary to the above equation: If the acute workload for week 5 was to be 700 AU then the ACWR for that period would be 1.3. A value of 1.3 would represent the top end of the “sweet spot” bracket, meaning that the subsequent injury risk for that week is relatively low. If that acute load was to change to say 900 AU then the ratio would be 1.7 and the injury risk would be relatively greater.
Application to YOU
Both internal and external load is inevitable in the workplace, there is no hiding from the fact. The table above displays the application of the ACWR as a load management tool for individuals across a wide range of occupations. As you can see all scenarios have the capacity to create positive or negative outcomes. The outcome is primarily dependent on the preparedness of the individual to that specific task.
Looking specifically at the receptionist, the increase in acute load may come from working longer days during a busy period or working more days in the week to cover for a colleague who is sick for example. These factors can drive up the acute load, inherently increasing injury risk (eg. overuse injuries, such as a repetitive strain injury), leaving the individual unable to work.
However, this doesn’t only apply to occupational tasks…
Simple scenarios such as going for a 10km bike ride after just dusting your bike off from a 10-year absence of use or going on an overseas holiday where you may be walking over 10km per day while being lucky to clock up 2km at home during a normal day; both are examples of a spike in acute load far beyond that of the chronic load.
Take Home Points
- Ensure that you are prepared for any task you will be completing; whether it be walking, running, cycling, gardening, working, playing sport.
- Be mindful of what your body is used to and try to avoid the spikes in acute load for any given task; should you want to reduce the risk of developing any injuries.
About the Author
Did you know that getting older doesn’t have to mean losing your balance? In fact, you can actually use strength training to improve balance!
When I was a little kid, I couldn’t think of anything worse than getting older.
In fact, it kind of terrified me.
While I think that reading Peter Pan just one too many times may have had something to do with it, it certainly wasn’t the only reason.
See, I was scared of leaving school and ‘growing up’ (whatever the hell that means, anyway?). I was scared of getting a job, and I was really scared of leaving home.
I mean, how would I survive?
And I was also weirdly scared of getting wrinkles, but that’s neither here nor there.
However, as I got a little older, I began to realize that it wasn’t all bad.
I mean, getting older meant I could get my license, see R rated movies, and you know, kind of do whatever I wanted without my Mum telling me off (or so I thought, anyway…).
Living the dream, right?
Not to mention the fact that getting older provided me with the means to find interests and passions, create a career, develop important relationships, and ultimately build an entire life.
All of which sound a whole lot better than high school if you ask me.
But age is a fickle mistress.
With all these amazing positives (of which there are also many more), she also brings some pretty hefty negatives.
See, advanced age can cause declines in physical function — of which none are more apparent than a decline in balance.
Now this loss of balance can lead to an increased risk of falls, a loss of independence, and finally, even a reduced quality of life.
But here’s the big thing.
It doesn’t have to.
In fact, if you take the right steps, you can give age the middle finger and keep your function indefinitely.
And as the title of this article so aptly suggests, it all starts with strength training.
What is Balance?
Balance is an interesting term that is thrown around sooooo often — but what does it really mean?
Well, balance is often defined as “the ability to maintain stability during movement while weight is shifting, and when changing base of support”.
Or as I like to think of it — the ability to not fall over.\
Now, balance is pretty damn important.
If your balance is poor, then your ability to navigate the word around you becomes limited. This means that you are not only going to be at an increased risk of falling over, but that performing any normal task of daily living will also become harder.
Why Does Your Balance Get Worse As You Get Older?
It is important to note that your balance can start to deteriorate due to several different factors.
If your eyesight gets worse, so will your balance. Similarly, balance can start to decline if your cognitive function and mental acuity begins to decrease.
But these aren’t typically the main driver.
In fact, the biggest factor for a loss of balance appears to be related to strength.
See, as you age, you tend to see a general decline in muscle mass. And this in turn causes an immediate and direct reduction in strength.
And this is where things start to go downhill.
See, the stronger you are, the more force you can produce. This means that you have more force available to control your movements. It also means that you have much better ability to absorb impacts and react to erratic and sudden movements.
In short, it means you have better balance.
For example, if you accidentally trip while walking up some stairs, you are going to be at an obvious risk of falling. However, if you have a high degree of strength, you can rapidly produce the force required to quickly put your foot down firmly on the ground.
Moreover, the rest of your body has the strength required to stabilize against thee force of you tumbling forward at the exact same time.
You don’t fall over.
But, if your strength is poor, then this doesn’t happen.
Instead, you try to move your foot into position to catch yourself, but you are too slow. You begin to stumble forward, and because you aren’t strong enough to stabilize the rest of your body, you tumble to the ground.
Now here’s the worst part.
The vast majority of this loss of strength occurs because as we get older, we move less. Our jobs tend to become more sedentary, and our activity levels decline.
Essentially we no longer tell our body that it needs to keep strength and muscle mass.
So we lose it.
This causes a decline in balance, which can make movement and exercise more challenging.
We then avoid it even more.
You can see the problem here, right?
It becomes a truly vicious cycle…
Does Strength Training Improve Balance
With all this dark and gloomy information, it is important for me to say that this is not a death sentence.
In fact, all of this is very much reversible.
See, if a loss of strength is what contributes to a loss of balance, then increasing strength becomes the key to maintaining and improving it.
And just to be clear, this isn’t a mere assumption.
There is a large body of evidence clearly demonstrating that strength training can have a massive impact on balance and on risk of falls.
More importantly, there is even some evidence to suggest that strength training may be even more effective than traditional ‘balance’ training (things like walking on unstable surfaces and standing on wobble boards) when it comes to improving balance.
Talk about the fountain of youth…
Now with all this in mind, I also need to address a common misconception.
People seem to think that as you get older it becomes impossible to get stronger and build any muscle mass.
They seem to think that after the age of 40, it literally becomes impossible.
Which is a complete and utter load of bull.
In fact, there is an incredible amount of research clearly proving that this misconception is just that — a misconception.
Strength training has been shown time and time again to help build muscle and increase strength in people who are well into their eighties.
So you are never to old too start.
Using Strength Training to Improve Balance
I hope by this point you have a pretty firm belief that strength training can help you improve your balance.
Now its time to outline how it can be best implemented with this goal in mind.
First things first, you want to focus on large compound exercises that use free weights (think dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells) as their primary form of resistance. This means squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses, and rows. These movements not only recruit the most amount of muscle mass (which is perfect for increasing muscle size), but they also require the coordination of multiple joints at the same time.
As a result, they also improve your coordination, which is of obvious benefit to balance.
Secondly, you cant just “go through the motions“.
To build strength, you need to use what I like too describe as appreciable loads. This pretty much means weights that actually make you work hard.
Just to be clear, I am not saying that you need to be on your haunches in a pool of sweat at the end of your session — but the sets within your training session should not be easy.
Lastly, to optimize strength development, you need to train at least twice per week (and to be honest, three times is better).
This frequency is important, because it is what creates a demand for your body to grow new muscle tissue and devlop more strength.
It is this that essentially tells your body that it needs muscle and strength to survive — which is pretty important!
Strength Training to Improve Balance: The Perfect Program
Last thing I wanted to do was give you a simple program that you can implement 2-3 times per week to build strength and improve balance in the process.
|Exercise||Sets x Reps|
|Goblet Squat||3 x 8||120s|
|Dumbbell Press||3 x 10||120s|
|Kettlebell Deadlift||4 x 6||120s|
|Single Arm Dumbbell Row||3 x 10 / side||60s / side|
|Split Squat||3 x 8 / side||60s / side|
|Pallof Press||3 x 10 / side||45s / side|
Now I appreciate that this program looks pretty simple, but that’s the point — we are using basic fundamental movements to build strength and coordination.
And it is this that truly carries over to balance.
So give it a go 2-3 days per week and make sure you let us know what you think!
Take Home Message
Getting older doesn’t have to mean getting frail — and it certainly doesn’t have to mean losing balance.
In fact, I would argue that it shouldn’t.
Strength training offers the perfect solution to improving balance and ensuring that you live the life you want too, indefinitely.
So what are you waiting for?
About The Author
Should kids lift weights? Given that it can improve health, boost function, and stave off injury, YES. Although It needs to be done properly, of course.
I first started lifting weights when I was 16.
My footy coach told me that I needed to get a bit ‘stronger over the ball‘. Fortunately, my dad had an old weights set sitting in the shed, so I put to and two together and decided that it was time to lift some weights.
Beast mode engaged (or at least, that’s what I thought was happening?).
See, while I thought it was a good idea, I literally had no idea what I was doing (enter google) — so I found a couple of exercises that looked good, and off I went.
I’m pretty sure for the next 2 years I did three exercises fairly consistently.
- Bench press
- Bicep curls
- Chin ups
Seriously, what more do you need…
I tried a few lower body exercises here and there, but at the time thought running was more than enough for my legs… and as a result, they left my gym program pretty quickly.
While I admit that my footy performance didn’t improve a lot, I thought I looked pretty good, so that was a positive.
In hindsight it was probably this which put me on my chosen career path (not all that awe-inspiring, now that I think about it…)
But here’s the funny thing.
Even at the age of 16, my mum still held some huge reservations about me lifting weights. She was adamant that it was going to damage my growth plates, make me shorter, and get me injured.
In short, she had many of the same misconceptions that are still around today.
Interestingly, knowing what I do now, I actually wish I had started earlier.
I also wish I had done it properly — but more on that later.
Kids and Formalized Exercise
There are some pretty obvious benefits that come with getting your kids exercising young.
I mean, they get fitter, they get stronger, they are less likely to become overweight and obese, and they will have better mental health. More importantly, if your kids exercise regularly as a child, then they are going to exercise more as an adult.
This means that exercising during childhood will literally set them up for a lifetime of success.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be pushed into formalized exercise at a young age.
Kids and Sport
While there is certainly merit in having them actively participate in a sport (it is a very easy way to introduce physical activity), this shouldn’t be their only focus.
In fact, if you get your kid to specialize in a single sport too early, then it will be to their detriment. They are more likely to get injured, they only become good at sport specific tasks (rather than important fundamental movements), and they will actually be less likely to make it to the elite level.
Conversely, if your child plays a number of different sports on a yearly basis, then the opposite is true.
They develop a broad base of motor skill and coordination, and they become more robust and resilient.
In turn, they build a solid foundation that will set them up for athletic success as an adult.
So even if you think your kid is the next Ash Barty, there is still no point in making them focus entirely on tennis — because I can assure you it will do more harm than good.
To add to this, a large part of your kids exercise routine should be made up of active play.
You know, climbing up things, playing games, and jumping off stuff?
Yep, all that fun stuff that involves moving your body simply for the sake of moving your body.
It is these sorts of activities that further develop those super important motor skills that I discussed earlier.
It is also these sorts of activities that help foster a true enjoyment for exercise.
When Should Kids Lift Weights?
Now we move onto the crux of the discussion — when should kids start lifting weights?
I have already outlined that your kids should be given the opportunity to try a number of different sports. Within this, I have also discussed the importance of play.
In my mind, this is imperative up until the age of about 10 years old. After which there is definitely some merit in moving them into more formalized training.
And yes, I am talking about lifting weights — but maybe not in the way that you think.
See, performing traditional strength exercises (starting with body weight and progressing slowly) is the perfect way to develop a base of good motor control and coordination. This is important, because it lays the foundation that underpins their ability to perform more complex movement tasks.
Things like jumping, sprinting, bounding, and landing, are all predetermined by your ability to squat, lunge, and hip hinge well.
In this manner, formalized weight training can really set your child up for success in any future athletic endeavors.
Moreover, if they do get the opportunity to play sport at a higher level of competition, these movements will make up the bulk of their gym training. This means that they will be a step ahead of anyone who hasn’t performed these movements in a gym environment before.
In short, this results in more success!
Finally, the earlier your that your children are exposed to these basic fundamental gym-based movements, the more competent they are going to be. This means that if they do decide to enter a gym in their teenage years (AKA me circa 2008, V-neck T-shirt and all), they are actually going to have some idea of what they are doing.
This means less stupidity, and a reduced risk of injury.
How Should Kids Lift Weights?
I have outlined when kids should lift weights. Now we really need to delve into how kids should lift weights.
And it all starts gradually.
In my mind, they first need to become competent at performing those key fundamental movement tasks I mentioned above. This means that all their programming should revolve around squatting, lunging, pressing, rowing, and hip hinging. It should also teach them to brace their trunk and spine against external forces.
Simple stuff really (in fact, your program should look a whole lot like this too).
They should start training these exercises (and their many variations) using their body weight as the main form of resistance. This gives them the opportunity to develop the motor control required to perform these movements under load in the future.
Once you feel comfortable with their ability to perform these movements with control, then you can add some load.
But don’t be moronic about it.
This means finding exercise variations that they can do well, and adding light loads slowly. You want them performing 10-12 repetitions with optimal technique. Moreover, you want to make sure that they finish every set with 2-3 reps in the bank — this way they are not training to failure.
Additionally, you want it to be fun.
This might mean incorporating game based play into your training sessions. It might involve some reactive agility tasks, some jumping and landing, or even some coordination activities.
It might simply mean that you spend a bit more time talking crap while they exercise — just make it fun.
And always remember that this introduction to formal exercise provides the chance to develop lifelong exercise habits. As a result, the more enjoyable your kids find exercising now, the more likely they will enjoy it in the future too.
What about as they get older?
Finally, if your kids are transitioning into adolescence, then there is certainly merit in spending more time working with moderately heavy loads.
I mean, their training should still be built around the same movement patterns I have already outlined, but there is going to be some room to push it a little.
It is this that promotes the development of strength and lean tissue — both of which can improve sport performance, enhance health, reduce injury risk, and improve function.
However, there is an obvious caveat here.
If they have never stepped foot in a gym before, then regress them back to simple body weight exercises, and build from there.
Hopefully the following table outlines what I have been talking about reasonably well!
(Although if you want a bit more info, you can also check out another great article here)
- Developing motor control and coordination through the performance of fundamental exercises
- Predominantly sticking to body weight loading
- Staying 2-3 reps short of failure every set
- Make it fun
- Playing a myriad of different sports each year
- Body weight squats and lunges, hip hinges, push ups, inverted rows pull ups, planks, and side planks
- Jumping, landing, sprinting, crawling and climbing
|13 – 15 years|
- Enhancing strength and coordination through the use of fundamental exercises
- The addition of lighter loads and more demanding exercises (free weights)
- Staying 2-3 reps short of failure every set
- Playing 2 sports per year, with a period of focus on keeping active and maintaining a good base of general fitness
- Goblet squats, front squats, split squats, lunges, dumbbell presses, push ups, dumbbell rows, cable rotations, planks, and deadlift variations
- Jumping, landing, sprinting, crawling, and bounding
|16 – 18 years|
- Transition into heavier loading to promote strength and muscular development
- Still adhere to fundamental movement patterns, and stay 1-2 reps shy of failure every set
- 1-2 sports per year, with time dedicated to developing strength and aerobic fitness prior to each season
- Barbell squats, split squats, lunges, deadlifts, presses, and rows
- The maintenance of body weight movements such as push ups and pull ups
- Rapid change of directions, sprints, bounds, and explosive jumps
But Kids Only Need Play!
Before I finish up, I wanted to address the elephant in the room.
A lot of people of think that kids do not need any form of formalized exercise. That as long as they play, then they will be fine.
And once upon a time, they may have been right — but now?
Not so much…
See, kids no longer play — or at least, not in the way that they used to.
I mean, they play fortnight? They watch YouTube videos? They be playing Instagram?
But, in modern day, they don’t really play how they need too. And i think this comes down to the fact that they are no longer given the opportunity to use their bodies through exploration and movement.
And before you tell me that they get enough exercise at school, remember that to simply maintain health, children need a minimum of one hour of intense exercise per day.
I repeat — at the bare minimum.
So I would argue that kids actually need formalized exercise more than ever.
I would state that because they no longer have the opportunity to move and develop appropriately, we need to give them the opportunity.
Which is exactly where weight training enters the discussion.
But Isn’t Lifting Weights Bad for Kids?
Many people (my mum included…) are adamant that commencing weight training at a young age will somehow be detrimental to their health.
You know, because the load will be stunting their growth and all that….
Now, the first thing I will point out is that the forces placed on the human body when performing a simple landing are MUCH higher than those seen when performing a loaded squat. So if your kids are playing on playgrounds, jumping out of trees, and throwing themselves from trampolines, they are going to be placing their joints under heaps more load than they would in the weight room.
Soooo, yeah — its not going to damage their growth plates…
Secondly, weight training has actually been shown to be extremely safe for kids — especially when supervised by someone who knows what they are doing!
So, as long as they are not being stupid, their risk of an injury occurring in the weight room is next to nothing. Moreover, when we consider that lifting weights can actually prevent other sport injuries from occurring, I would say this is a moot point.
In short, no, weight training is not bad for kids.
Take Home Message
Should kids lift weights? I would give this a resounding yes!
When implemented correctly, weight training can improve coordination, build strength and resilience, enhance mental health and self-esteem, boost sport performance, and reduce injury risk. Moreover, it can set them up for a lifetime of health success.
So what are you waiting for?
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