First Things First

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When Can I Start My Kid Weightlifting?
What are the Best Exercises for Kids?

Draper back squats

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See the way it goes? It’s February 1st, right on schedule. 2006 is a month old and growing like a weed. Most of the small stuff we worried about last year is forgotten, and the big stuff hasn’t changed despite our continued fretting. I don’t know about you, but from now on I’m not going to worry about anything anymore ever. It’s a waste of energy; it sabotages our physical health, it consumes the mind, it depresses the spirit and derails relationships. The time we could invest in creativity is frittered away in decay. Worry is negativity, reflected in everything we think, say and do. Worry is a sin.

Holy Moly! Worrying is more worrisome than I thought. I dare not imagine how much I’d worry if I didn’t work out. Horrors!

Worry should not be confused with appropriate caution, concern or alertness, bombers. These conditions of awareness are sensible, preparing us and guiding us and keeping us from harm’s way. We rely on these qualities as instincts to steer us through our daily experiences, including our workouts.

Do not worry. Be aware always.

Glad we settled that issue. Good to get the junk out of the way before getting into the substance of the day.

Here’s a worrisome subject that pops up on my computer screen periodically from troubled moms and dads and concerned adults: What are we to do with young, eager weightlifter wannabes? Man, am I glad my dad was too busy doing crossword puzzles to notice my infatuation with the weights when I was ten years old. He might have screwed up the whole affair.

"They’re just heavy toys, Dear. Let the kid play. So... what’s a six letter word for 'interfere' beginning with the letter M?"

What about young weightlifter wannabes, those 8-, 10- and 12-year-old kids-becoming-adults wanting to play hard and be buffed? Encourage them and give them some fundamental training advice. They won’t explode, disturb their growth plates or hormonal balance, or otherwise render themselves strange in nature and appearance. Well... no more than they will running, jumping and climbing trees, swinging a bat, or carrying a ball for a touchdown with six guys on their backs.

Kids will be kids. They may drop a plate on their heads and push till they burst -- once -- but they’ll get over it. By that time you can offer the lads more instruction and support, or get them a football.

I’m trying to contain myself. We were once kids, and we who pursue muscle, strength and health through weightlifting retain the better part of that kid-ness today. Part of an ironhead’s personality. Aren’t you glad? Kids are the greatest asset we have and what a golden opportunity to influence your young charge -- change the course of his or her life from the all-too-common unfocused rolly-polly, like the neighborhood kids, to a strong, healthy and outstanding participant in today’s dysfunctional world.

The discipline in developing strength and forming healthy eating habits is worth more than the three Rs of grade school -- readin’, ritin’ and rithmatic (or rocket science in universities). Toss in the unvisited quality, perseverance, and the seldom applied virtue, patience, and you have the makings of a living and breathing man or woman.

Life has veered off course lately -- the past 50 years -- and schools and parents either pay no attention to kids (bordering on neglect), or too much attention (bordering on demanding). Add to this sad condition the new rules and attitudes thrown into life’s great gymnasium by the highly technological spinning world and there is generational chaos:

~ Me first
~ I can be who I want to be, do anything I want to do
~ I want what I want, and I want it now
~ It’s mine and I deserve it
~ Heck, no, I don’t want to work for it.

With the advent of snappy cell phones and computers and large screen digital TVs we have immediate living, immediate expectations and news as it happens. Authentic reality -- that would be life -- is being displaced by Hollywood reality -- that would be fantasy. Make-believe violence in parlor video-games celebrates brutality and teaches us its skills. Bang. You’re dead. We now have confusion running neck ‘n neck with ignorance in the over-crowded global neighborhood.

Any simple help we can offer is like a drink of water for a lost soul dying of thirst in a polluted wasteland. Pour a tall glass and let them drink freely. Get them wet but don’t drown them.

We must be careful. We don’t want to follow our wagging tail and ignore or suffocate the young strength-contenders. We don’t want to confuse them, give them false hope, set them up for defeat, push them forward, hold them back, strain them, spare them, entertain them, lose them, blame them or maim them.

We want to show them the ropes -- the sets and reps and presses and curls, define a real goal in muscle and might, teach them respect for the iron and its rewards and point them in the right direction. Go, lad ‘n lass; enjoy and grow in countless ways.

A little instruction goes a long way; too much might stifle their growth. Remove creativity, invention and feel and the activity becomes rigid and predictable and undesirable. Work.

This is what I would do if I were you -- first things first:

Set aside a spare room and fill it with a Draper Dungeon, 1,000 pounds of Olympic weights, thick bars and a treadmill. Just joking about the treadmill.

Get him a lifetime membership at a 24-Hour Fitness. Funny, almost hysterical

I’d do a quick, commonsense assessment of the youngster before me -- age, intelligence, maturity and fitness level -- and speak to that person. Let’s call it a guy. I’d encourage him in his pursuit of muscles and strength and carefully and positively expand his purpose to include health and fitness. His eyes will cross and his mind will roam at such a suggestion, but we can commence a mild indoctrination at this tender age. It’s our duty. Thou shalt be disciplined, patient and persevering, healthy and well-conditioned. The least we can do is introduce him to the words.

Ideally, I’d arrange a time when we could work out together in his gym setting with the equipment he has available. Assuming his equipment is complete, I’d outline our simple exercise approach on paper (visual aid), tell him briefly what each exercise is for (presses for chest and shoulders, curls for biceps) to give him a picture of our course of action and familiarize him with musclebuilding jargon.

Odds are we have an active child (okay, young adult) on our hands and recommending aerobics is totally unnecessary. Yippee. He may never have to step on a treadmill or mount a stationary bike in his life. However, some worthwhile crunches and leg raises can be introduced at a later date when an ounce of spare training devotion is available.

I’d assure him that lifting weights is good for him and will build his muscles and make him strong. And I would tell him it is easy to learn; it’s fun, it’s hard work and it takes time. I’d then demonstrate a series of the very best and most desirable exercises he or any of us can do.

These are the best exercises, kids:

Bench press -- torso, chest, shoulders and triceps
Medium-wide pulldowns to the front to mimic chins -- lats, back and biceps
Dumbbell incline press -- shoulders, torso and triceps
Dips -- torso and triceps
Standing barbell curl -- biceps
Leg press -- thighs

At this early stage he doesn’t need to know the finer distinctions between exercises, their drawbacks, their sterling qualities or advanced applications. He’s got a full plate, enough for his limited appetite. Stuff him at every sitting and he’ll choose a hunger strike, resort to video games and discover piercing and tattoos as an expression of rebellion.

Explain everything you do as you go along, referencing the equipment in familiar terms (racks, flat bench, incline, pulleys, platform) to teach him, include him and show your confidence in him. Recruit his assistance in setting up equipment, loading and unloading the weights with natural and casual work conduct. No brainer stuff, but real-steel to a slim or jiggly 10-year-old. He’s lifting weights before he’s weight lifting. Cool.

Demonstrate each exercise from start to finish -- body position, hand grip and placement, commencement of the exercise, exercise groove, steadiness of bar or dumbbells, flow and focus of reps, muscles engaged, rep after rep, set completion. Looks complicated in print, but defining the above order in simple English can make it all very clear. Don’t over-describe. If either student or teacher balks, let the physical demo do the talking.

If life is good and attention spans are active, run through the six exercises on the list -- 2 sets x 10-12 repetitions -- to give the trainee a true workout, a dash of fatigue and pain and his first layer of information. Knowledge and understanding and growth come with practice and enthusiasm. The process has begun.

Convey the importance and need to exercise with moderate weight in the beginning to prepare the muscles and joints for the heavier weights ahead. We don’t need no injured kid crawling around the gym like a duffus.

Your young champ can apply -- play with -- these movements as he pleases day after day. You can trust his youth; he’ll get bored with them long before he overuses them. Best of all, hook up with the rascal for a scheduled second workout to demonstrate consistency, revisit the exercises, correct form, answer questions, and commend and encourage.

In time you can introduce alternate exercises to the routine he’s come to know: dumbbell presses, deadlifts, lateral raises, dumbbell curls, pushdowns, squats. Here’s where we separate the men from the boys.

Somewhere early on, acquaint the budding mound of muscle with the value of eating right to building might. If he’s your very own prodigy, you can direct his eating habits at the dinner table and by example. No sugar, lots of protein, living foods, regularity in mealtimes, breakfast, lots of water, healthy pre- and post-workout snacks -- you know the program.

Stop and think for a moment. Do you realize the importance of this education -- exercising and eating right, always? What should be ordinary daily input for our youth turns out to be the most profound and valuable information he’ll receive in his lifetime -- and probably wouldn’t have received if he didn’t request it. Hello!!

And, then, there’s the often rare and invaluable communication; father to son, adult to youngster. Forget underlining the priceless character benefits he’ll acquire and develop along the way. He’s come this far. Don’t bore him.

Lifting weights is a lot like flying. What goes up must come down. Control is the key. Fly high, avoid crash landings and no bailing out. Top your tank, use only quality fuel and no running on empty. Gliding, cruising and soaring can be especially fun. Protect your wings at all cost. Know when to land and park and batten down your craft. Tomorrow’s another day...

Zoom... The Bomber, Dave Draper

Here's more on teaching your kids weight training.

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