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Weight Training 101

The Right Start for Your Son or Daughter

Over the past 15 years I have worked out mostly at the ITRC gym here at the IRON MAN offices in Oxnard, California, and occasionally at my outdoor home gym. This summer was different, as my 14-year-old son, Justin, had shown some real interest in bodybuilding and wanted to make it a summer priority.

We started training together the second week in June, doing full-body workouts two to three times per week. We did that for 11 weeks (about 28 workouts), and it was a lot of fun. It put me back in touch with my own beginnings 48 years ago. The difference was the application of my experience to his enthusiasm.

I'm a firm believer in creating a solid foundation with the basic multijoint exercises performed under control and with perfect form. I never want a trainee to sacrifice style to handle more weight. Teenage boys want everything now, and Justin was no different. So part of my job was simply to contain and channel his enthusiasm.

It took about four workouts for him to create a bench-pressing groove. He got the deadlift down in about four workouts too, and it took him about six to be able to squat deep with a flat back. All beginners have to etch those neuromuscular pathways before they can make any real progress in the amount of weight they use. The process of perfecting form is a continuous one with young trainees, as their strength increases rapidly. It's vitally important that you coach them very carefully to ensure their safety and progress. Don't let their desire to know what they can lift for a single get in the way of the teaching process. They will test you, but you must teach the basics first. Our first six workouts looked like this:

High-bar tucks, 1 x max
He did each kneeup as a smooth, complete rep.

Ab Bench crunches, 1 x 12
He used 15 pounds on the Ab Bench. I believe, as Bill Pearl does, that a little ab work makes a good warmup.

Squats, 1 x 20
At first Justin would go down to maybe four inches above parallel, and his heels would rise or he would start to lose his erect posture. The bar and plates weighed 66 pounds (we have a metric set), and the bar was digging into his traps. He used the Manta Ray, a plastic yoke-type piece that snaps onto the bar, to help distribute the pressure. That helped get his mind off the trap pain and concentrate on doing smooth, deep reps in good form. By workout 12 he was able to squat without the Manta Ray. (I had him read Randall Strossen's IronMind column in the October '04 IRON MAN, 'Make Friends with Fatigue,' which helped his mind-set.)

Bench presses, 1 x 10
He started with 66 pounds and could get the 10 reps but would sometimes press unevenly or touch the bar too high or low on his chest. When he got the groove, it was an 'ah' moment.

Deadlifts, 1 x 10
I had him pull slowly off the floor, with his head up, and ease into the finished position. He started at 66 pounds.

One-arm dumbbell rows, 1 x 10
He braced his free arm on a bench and used a nice smooth, controlled, full movement.

Seated dumbbell presses, 1 x 10
This was more of a coordination challenge. He used 20-pound dumbbells, and it took a while to get the sway out of the movement and to press the dumbbells evenly. Once he learned to lock his core muscles to create a solid base, he was able to concentrate on getting those dumbbells to go up evenly.

Seated dumbbell curls, 1 x 10
Justin did these the way I like to do them, starting with the dumbbells hanging at his sides, thumbs forward, and rotating his hands to a palms-up position as he curled them up.

One-leg calf raises, 1 x max
The workout was less than a half hour, but a lot of learning took place. It makes no sense to add sets or weight if the form is faulty. Some trainees will learn that in fewer workouts, and some will take longer. The main thing is to move at their pace'they must be comfortable and confident. It's your job to be sensitive to pain, discomfort and fear. You're teaching skills that will last a lifetime here, and the way you present the information will either turn them on or turn them off. After the sixth workout I added sets and an additional exercise.

The ab-exercise warmup stayed the same, but as Justin's 20-rep squat moved above 110 pounds, I added a warmup set with 66 pounds for six to eight reps. By the end of the summer, when he'd built up to squatting 132 pounds for 20, he would do two warmups'66 pounds for six and 110 for six. We tried doing just the one all-out set of squats, without warmup sets, but he found that a warm muscle is stronger.

His bench press went to three sets of descending reps'10, eight, six'on one day and three sets of six to eight at the next workout. His best was 132 pounds for eight reps.

During those 11 weeks his bodyweight went from 120 pounds at 5'4' to 128 pounds at 5'4 1/2'. He is not a big eater, but I was able to get him to use RecoverX after most workouts.

ALLThe deadlift became a three-set affair, with 10, eight and six reps. By the 11th week the progression was 143 pounds for 10 reps, 177 pounds for eight reps and 193 pounds for six. I added one all-out set of parallel-grip chins to the workout, and he got to 11 good reps using a smooth, even pull, with no leg jerking and no cheating.

His seated dumbbell presses also went to three sets (10, eight, six), with his best being 35 pounders for six reps. His one-arm dumbbell rows went to three sets (10, eight, six) as well, with his best being 55 pounds.

The seated dumbbell curls progressed to 30 pounds on the final set of six with the same rep scheme.

His one-leg calf raises stayed at one set of as many as he could do.

Justin is away at school, so it will be interesting to see the progress he makes over the next months, as he has a very rigorous academic schedule and other interests such as music and musical theater. I told him that if he can do one full-body workout a week, he will hold on to his gains, and two will bring him progress. IM

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