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Properly administer a youth strength training program

By Avery Faigenbaum and Wayne Westcott


Being a Teacher

Teachers should be knowledgeable, supportive, and enthusiastic about strength training. They must have a thorough understanding of youth strength-training guidelines and should speak with children at a level the children understand. Teachers should be actively involved in the learning experience and should demonstrate exercises properly. Because children tend to absorb more information with their eyes than with their ears, we keep our verbal instructions short and make a point to demonstrate every exercise to all the children. We often have more experienced boys and girls demonstrate the exercises for the class. This is an important concept because participants who have strength-training experience make good peer tutors, which helps to keep them interested and engaged instead of bored and disruptive.

Teachers should be patient with children and allow them the opportunity to master the performance of an exercise before moving to more advanced training techniques. This is particularly important when working with children who appear physically awkward or clumsy. In this case, provide additional instruction, encouragement, and time to learn a new exercise. In addition, offering these children a choice of exercises might ensure continued participation. For example, if children have difficulty performing a barbell squat exercise, you can suggest a dumbbell squat as an alternative. This would provide an opportunity for the children to continue strength training when they would otherwise be disinterested because of a lack of confidence in their physical abilities. With constructive feedback and adequate time for practice, young people become more confident in their physical abilities and feel more comfortable performing advanced exercises correctly.

We begin our youth strength-training programs with a major focus on education. We do not lecture to children in a classroom, but we do create a learning environment in which participants feel comfortable and capable of succeeding. We spend time discussing safe training procedures, the relevance of strength training, and realistic performance expectations. We remind all participants that it takes time to learn new skills and that long-term progress is made with small gains every training day. Although some young exercisers may want to see how much weight they can lift during the first week of class, we redirect their enthusiasm and interest in strength training toward the development of proper form and technique of a variety of exercises.

We discuss the value of physical activity and introduce the children to proper exercise technique, training guidelines, and safety procedures. Remember show and tell from elementary school? We follow a similar strategy when working with youth. This approach provides a method of teaching strength-training exercises while assessing knowledge, performance, social behaviors, and motivation. After positioning the participants so they all have a clear view of the teacher or coach, we use the following strategy when introducing a new exercise to the class:

  1. Name the exercise. Use one name and stick with it throughout the lesson.
  2. Explain the exercise. Use simple terms to describe the exercise and tell the participants how the exercise can benefit them.
  3. Show the exercise. Demonstrate the exercise several times and from different angles so that all participants can see a full picture of proper execution.
  4. Perform the exercise. Ask the participants to perform the exercise and offer positive, constructive feedback on proper body position and technique.
  5. Observe the exercise. Walk around the exercise room and watch the kids strength training. Look for specific skills and ask participants to assess themselves and their peers.
  6. Discuss. At the end of the session, encourage kids to honestly talk about their perceptions of the day’s activities. This information will help you plan the next session.

Although some participants may want to see how much weight they can lift on the first day of class, we redirect their enthusiasm for strength training by focusing on proper exercise technique. We use checklists that describe in detail proper exercise technique as well as coaching cues. Exercise technique checklists are particularly useful for multijoint lifts such as the squat, bench press, and power clean. Although the amount of weight that participants use for these lifts will vary depending on their body size and strength-training experience, exercise technique checklists can be used for improving exercise form, adjusting training loads, and evaluating individual progress.


This is an excerpt from Youth Strength Training.



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