How To Develop Strength in Untrained Children

TAGS: bodyweight movements, deconditioned, training young kids, kids strength, kids lifting, team sports, high school athletics, workout, weightlifting, push up, max effort, dave tate, bench press

I was asked a question several weeks ago about how to help kids that show an interest in weightlifting. I'm going to approach this question as if a 14-16 year old has never done any lifting before in his life — no sports, no gym lifting, nothing. A lot of people would consider this your average kid in America: they can't do 20 push-ups, can't hold a static squat, and can't really do any bodyweight movements well.

They are expressing interest, which is a good thing. That should be a major, major consideration whenever anybody's working or considering working with any kids. They need to want to do it. If they don't want to do it, then you shouldn't have them do it. It's a delicate balance when you're working with kids because you want to see them embrace what we love so much but it may not be their passion. You don't want to burn them out or have them end up hating something that they really should make a part of their life forever. Exercise (not just weightlifting, weight training, powerlifting, or whatever they're going to get into) has to be a part of their life, so the last thing that we want to do is to destroy that and have them not ever want to go into the gym.

What should they do? If they're that deconditioned, I would have them come into the gym and watch you train and see how that goes. Have them do maybe a couple things just to see what their interest is and nothing major. Nothing like deadlifts. I would stay with bodyweight movements. If they can't do 20 push-ups, I would reinforce that they have to build strength with their own body weight before they can start using external resistance. It goes along with the game. If they can't do a push-up, then they have no business doing bench presses. Have them do the body weight movements and sled dragging — all the basic stuff, all the basic conditioning stuff that you would have anybody else do that came into the gym deconditioned. Watch to see if they're having fun. If they're not having fun, then throw more stuff in. Start out with once a week, see how that goes, then work it up from there.


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It seems like a simple questions to answer. We all know to have inexperienced lifters do body weight movements, but how can you do that without them getting bored? When they're in a gym and they're seeing you getting after it and you're doing the squats and the pulls and you're doing all the heavy training, they're going to want to be a part of that. Somehow or another, you've got to find a way to make them a part of that, to feel a part of that, to get that connection so they're going to want to come back, even if it's loading bars or pointing things out to them while the other lifters are lifting. Show them what people do right; look at how John keeps his back arched, see how Steve's pushing his knees out. Point out the technical things that the other lifters are doing right and that they're not doing right so they feel a part and they feel connected with what's going on.

proper form nic

Photo via The Spot Athletics 

So let's say you have a young junior-high age kid you're working with. You're doing the right progressions on the body weight movements to move them into the benches and the squats, cleans, whatever you're going to have them do, whatever's a part of the basic mix that you're going to put together for them. You have them on track to be able to do this, and then the call comes from a parent about how their junior high sports coach has them maxing out on the bench. This will happen, and you're going to want to scream. There will be nothing you can do because you know this kid's not prepared to be able to even be on the bench in the first place, let alone have some idiot telling them max out on the bench when he can't even do proper push-ups. You are kind of hand-strapped a little bit because you can't call the coach. All that's going to do is hurt the athlete in the long run. A lot of it, I've tried.

You can't really educate the coaches because they think that they know everything in the first place. You're stuck. What I've found is effective is to make a deal with the kids that I'm working with. The deal that I throw out there to them always involves the bench press, because that seems to always be the lift that they're maxing out on. These coaches never test them in squat or the dead lift, thank God, but it's always the bench press. For the deal, I'll sit the kid or parents down. There's got to be communication with the parents as well if you are working with kids, so the parents need to know how you feel and what's going on. You need to make sure that the parents aren't going to call the coach and tell him that he's an idiot for having the athlete max out on the bench press, so there has to be a good line of communication between the trainer and the parent as well as the kid.

The deal I make with the kids and parents starts here: explain that the reason that they want to bench press and the reason that they're doing the bench press is because everybody else that's on the team is doing it. If you've been training for any period of time, you pretty much know that in the United States, the bench press is a cock-measuring contest, plain and simple. That's all it is. Everybody wants to know how much do you bench. There are t-shirts, slogans, memes, everything. It's just how much do you bench? That's why they're doing it. They want to be able to bench more than what their peer did. If their buddy benched 95 pounds, they want to say that they did 100 so they could beat their buddy.

When I sit down the kids, I tell them this. I tell them that the bench press is a cock-measuring contest, plain and simple. That's all it is. It doesn't matter if they're bench pressing 55 pounds, 65 pounds, 85 pounds, 115 pounds, or 135 pounds, 155 pounds, whatever it is. It's just a 4-inch cock. Plain and simple. That's it. It's not a big bench. We all know that. They know that. It may be a big bench to them, but in the overall grand scheme of things, it's equivalent to a 4-inch dick. That's how I explain it to them. Then I tell them that if they stick to the plan I make for them now instead of benching every day, I'll make sure when they're in high school that they have a monster cock; they'll have a 10-inch cock instead of a 4-inch dick.

youth push up

Photo via Showtime Strength and Performance 

Everybody else will still have the 4-inch dick because of their inadequate training methods. I'll make sure that they got monster meat and that they're going to be able to bench 300, 400 pounds. I'll make sure to do that. I'll show them how to do that. I'll make the promise to them that I'll technically show them how to do that. I've been there before. I know what needs to be done to do that. I've helped hundreds of other people do that before. I've trained with people who have benched well over that. I've bench pressed well over that. I bench pressed over that when I was in high school. They can either learn from their inadequate coach who's going to help them develop their 4-inch cock, or they can do what I tell them to do and have monster meat when it comes to high school. Usually, they're going to make the choice that they're going to want to have the greater strength and the bigger dick when they're in high school. 115 pounds now or 400 pounds in high school?


RELATED: Children Should Minor in all Sports and Major in None


What is the deal? What is the deal that I make with them? Very simple. I still allow them to go in and do what they're going to do with their coach because their coach is going to be having them do whatever stupid shit they're going to have them do. If the coach is having them do two sets of six on the bench press, I want them to fake it. If it's a set of six, I want them to fail with the bar at six reps. If they can do 85 pounds, I don't give a shit. I want them to fail with a bar and fake their progressions so they're always training way under what they're capable of and making sure every rep that they do is done slowly, controlled, and with good technique. I will show them fairly good technique — good enough technique to be able to fake it through this.

Let them know that it doesn't matter that everybody else in there is going to be benching more than what they are. What is important is the physical development for their sport and how well they're going to participate in their sport and the total strength they're going to have as an athlete for the sport that they're participating in — not their bench press. What we're working on is developing the total athlete. We'll worry about the monster meat after they've developed the foundation to be able to actually train the bench press properly in the first place. My expectation on them is for them to fake it.

One of the markers that I use before I'll work with any kid on the bench press at all is 50 good push-ups. Once they do that, then I'll be able to start working on their technique. I want them to fake the bench press, start working the crap out of their push-ups to develop their arm strength, their upper-body strength and their body weight strength. Then from there, once they're able to do that, I'll begin really working their technique and then they'll be able to reinforce that technique when they go in and do the training with a junior high strength coach. Typically, it's just a coach who read an article somewhere or is just doing whatever he did when he played and didn't start years ago.

Training young kids is different. They're going to screw everything up that you're trying to develop. They're going to have a false interpretation of what their strength really is. In the beginning, that false interpretation is going to be false because they're going to think that they're stronger than what they really are. Then in the long run they're going to end up actually being weaker than they could possibly be if they developed the proper foundation. The sooner you get rid of their false interpretations and get them started developing strength where it counts, the better they'll be.

Dave's Coaching Log

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